Newcastle United 1 - Manchester United 2

23rd August 2003
St James Park, Newcastle

Manchester United continued their winning streak by defeating title-rivals Newcastle United in impressive fashion. Despite Reds manager Sir Alex Ferguson getting sent away from the touch-line, United shone as they came from a goal behind to take the three points.

The game started slowly, with neither team looking particularly impressive. After John O'Shea missed a header from close range from a corner, the Reds slowly got into their stride. They began by utilising the space on the wings that the Newcastle defenders were leaving surprisingly empty - van Nistelrooy and Giggs both made charging forward-runs which left the Newcastle defence reeling.

With each attack by United came a new, and more blatant, foul by the Newcastle defence. First, van Nistelrooy was brought down inside the box for a questionable penalty. The United players somehow kept their restraint, and accepted the decision, but, when Giggs was hacked down by the last defender when he was clean through, the game boiled over. According to the rule-book, Andy O'Brien the perpertrator should've headed off for an early bath, and United should've had a free-kick. However, referee Uriah Rennie thought he knew better, and decided against even stopping the play.

Ferguson, a man who is famed for his hatred of ineptness on the pitch (Particularly if they wear a red shirt), saw that decision as his cue to shout obscenities at the fourth official, and, whilst swearing and cussing is normally an acceptable display of frustration, he was caught out by yet more inconsistency by the referee, who sent him away from the touchline.

It transpired after the game that Ferguson enjoyed the rest of the game on a TV in Newcastle manager Sir Bobby Robson's office, where he even had time for sandwiches and afternoon tea. It says much for the quality of Rennie's decision that this was the first time Sir Alex has ever been sent from the touchline in an English league game in 17 years.

With Ferguson gone, United lost concentration momentarily, and Newcastle sneaked a goal. A free-kick was awarded wrongly for hand-ball against Paul Scholes on the edge of the area. A perfectly weighted delivery found Alan Shearer lurking free at the back post, having pushed his marker Mikael Silvestre to the ground, and his powerful header did the rest.

United held on to the break, and seemed to be transformed at half-time. Sir Alex found some well placed words which got everyone motivated, and United were at the top of their game. It wasn't a case of whether they were going to score it was when.

After raising the tempo of the game, United started to pass and move around the pitch with grace, poise and ease. Newcastle were no match for them as they picked out through-ball after through-ball which split or cut through the Newcastle defence. United dominated the game, creating chances with their slick and fast-flowing football.

After about five minutes of possession, van Nistelrooy broke free from his marker, and was racing towards goal with the ball at his feet. He lifted the ball over the body of the hapless Newcastle keeper, Given, but sent the ball oddly past the post when everyone in the stadium expected him to score.

Van Nistelrooy did not have to wait long to redeem himself. Within five minutes, Roy Keane managed to put the Dutchman through again. This time, van Nistelrooy composed himself before blasting the ball with fury into the back of the net, then running off to the corner flag to start dancing.

United kept up the pressure, and, with Newcastle's defenders making mistakes galore, it was almost obvious that they'd get another goal. This time it was Scholes' turn to first mess up a simple goal-scoring opportunity, and then to score soon after. From a yard out he guided the ball straight into the hands of Shay Given when it would've been easier to score. Next minute, he was free at the back-post when Keane's latest through-ball came in. Whilst van Nistelrooy used his frustration to emphatically drive the ball home, Scholes simply let the ball glance off his chest, and to fall into the bottom corner, just out of reach of the flailing Given.

Keane was incredible in the heart of the United midfield, harassing his opponents for the ball, before slicing up the defence once he'd won it. He was all over the park, and lead United to victory with an inspiring man of the match performance.

United should have used their pressure to even greater extent to secure the game, but neither Djemba-Djemba, Solskjaer nor Giggs could add to the tally. Ronaldo came on to add a few moments of his customary flair but failed to create chances that United could capitalise on.

The fact that there was only one goal in it led to a tense ending to the game. Newcastle nearly equalised in the final minute of the game, and, were it not for a piece of majestic defending by Ferdinand, United keeper Howard could well have been tested. Ferdinand managed to get back and block the shot of Shola Ameobi just in the nick of time, after Shearer had neatly laid the ball off to the young Newcastle striker.

Eric Djemba-Djemba played well, and didn't look out of place in the Manchester United team. His support in midfield was vital, as it allowed Keane to assert himself on the game. Eric and Keane look to have a strong midfield partnership already, and that can only get better as they play more games together.

The final whistle blew, and United had secured another three points. With or without Ferguson, the team managed to control the game, to dominate the midfield, and to make a team of title-hopefully and champions league qualifiers look distinctly average.

Newcastle (4-4-2): Given; Griffin, O'Brien, Bramble, Hughes; Robert (Viana 72), Dyer, Speed, Bowyer (Jenas 72); Shearer, Ameobi (Chopra 72). Subs Not Used: Harper, Bernard

Man Utd (4-5-1): Howard; Phil Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre, O'Shea; Keane, Djemba-Djemba, Solskjaer (Ronaldo 77), Scholes, Giggs (Forlan 90); van Nistelrooy. Subs Not Used: Carroll, Kleberson, Fletcher

Attendance: 52,165 Referee: U Rennie (S Yorkshire).