The champions-elect were unable to break down a resilient Magpies side as both teams saw second half penalty shouts turned down by Lee ProbertManchester United extended their lead at the top of the Premier League to seven points after drawing 0-0 with Newcastle at St. James’ Park.
In a high octane clash on Tyneside, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side failed to break down their resilient hosts and have offered slim hope of title glory to both Arsenal and Chelsea ahead of their respective games on Wednesday night.
With the celebrations of their noisy neighbours still ringing in the ears of the United squad, Ferguson looked to erase the memories of Wembley by making five changes to his side. Wayne Rooney returning from a much talked about two-game ban for his foulmouthed tirade at Upton Park the most notable boost to the visitors. The man he replaced, Dimitar Berbatov, didn’t even make the bench.
As one talismanic Liverpudlian returned for the champions-in-waiting another was missing for the hosts, with Kevin Nolan suspended for a clash against a team he has haunted on a number of occasions during his time at Bolton. Nolan was the most glaring omission from a Pardew side that were looking to finally cement their place in the Premier League for next season, as well as disrupting their opponent’s title charge.
St. James’ Park was rocking from the off and the opening exchanges were as vigorous as you might expect for a battle taking place in the height of end-of-season intensity. It took only two minutes for the game to nearly yield a breakthrough as Rooney, finding space down the left, hit an inch-perfect cross to the feet of Herandez only for the Mexican to be foiled by a superb Tim Krul save in a position from where he is often so dangerous.
An opening that appeared to signal the beginning of a dominant trip to Tyneside for the Premier League leaders was soon turned on its head however as Newcastle, clearly shaken into life, began to dictate possession and plough forward in great numbers. Their endeavour was so nearly rewarded as Gutierrez, jinking in from the left, saw a dangerous looking effort deflected wide. It was a start that was certainly giving the home fans something to shout about.
Alan Pardew’s charges were showing no fear and certainly had the better of the opening 20 minutes but as is so often the way against a United side of such dynamism, the Magpies appeared culpable on the break and it was a counter attack that led to United’s second excellent chance as Rooney, latching on to a fine ball over the top from Hernandez, failed to finish from a position where he is certainly capable of hitting the back of the net.
The ferocity of the St James’ crowd had been quelled somewhat as United’s maturity and assured touch on the ball blossomed on the half hour mark and the visitors were looking to pin their hosts into their own half. However, lacking the cutting edge to capitalise on their dominance threatened to leave United’s endeavours wasted as the first half neared its conclusion.
Stalemate | Joey Barton impressed as Ryan Giggs missed a terrific second half chance
A turn of fortunes should have come to fruition only two minutes before the break as the hosts broke in the form of Barton, who down the right hand side and looked dangerous for much of the first half. A deep cross from the flank met Peter Lovenkrands alone in the box but the Dane failed to prove great, heading a fantastic chance hopelessly wide to the despair of the Toon Army.
United returned from the half time break looking very like a team with a more pressing agenda than their hosts and sustained five minute period of pressure culminated in a header from Ryan Giggs, who had spent much of the first half as a passenger in the visitor’s midfield, saved comfortably by Krul. A let off for a Newcastle side under increasing pressure.
However, in a game that had been topsy-turvy from the opening minute the pendulum nearly swung the way of Alan Pardew’s side just before the hour mark as Lovenkrands, tentatively prowling on the edge of the box, fell to the floor under a tackle from Anderson. The crowd were convinced, unfortunately for the former Rangers man, Lee Probert wasn’t.
United continued to probe as the 70th minute mark approached and their breakthrough looked all the world to have arrived at the feet of Giggs but the Welshman, who had been rusty throughout, passively sidefooted an effort wide from about 10 yards out having collected the ball after a fantastic venture into the box by Patrice Evra.It was becoming a fight of subtle counter punching as the game inevitably stretched and it was the home side's turn to lash narrowly wide as Stephen Ireland, having been brought on to make his debut merely seconds earlier, latched on to an Ameobi knock down to half volley past Van der Sar and the right-hand post from outside the United penalty area.
United were looking increasingly panicked as the game entered its final stages and Michael Owen, a man most unpleasant on Tyneside was brought on to break the deadlock to a chorus of boos from the St James' faithful.
Seemingly happy with an invaluable point, Newcastle looked sat deep and took in the waves of pressure coming their way and hearts were in mouths in stoppage time as Hernandez went down in the box but the referee booked the dimunitive Mexican for simulation.
Complaints were made by the visitors at the final whistle but a sense of frustration with their own inability to break down Alan Pardew's side emanated more prominently. Newcastle reached the much-desired 40 point mark as the season enters its final stretch, for United, salvation may take a little more waiting.