Fresh from claiming the League Cup on Sunday, Manchester United returned to Premier League action hoping to restore their seven-point cushion at the top of the table.
In their path stood struggling Newcastle United, beaten by Bolton Wanderers on Sunday, but able to hand former Red Devil Alan Smith a first start of the season.
Yet despite all their woes, the Magpies began the game in confident fashion and stunned the champions by taking the lead with only nine minutes on the clock.
The goal came from an unlikely source, namely United stopper Edwin van der Sar, so often the champions' savior this season, and a man who had not been beaten in the Premier League since November.
Jonas Gutierrez was the man to create the danger, crossing from the left after a cut back from Jose Enrique.
The Dutchman failed to deal with the Argentinean’s delivery and could only parry the ball invitingly to Lovenkrands to tap home his second Newcastle goal.
The league leaders were stunned but it took them only 10 minutes to fire themselves back on level terms.
John O’Shea and Ji-Sung Park combined well down the right before the Irishman found Rooney outside the box.
The striker took one touch to control the ball before turning and fizzing a superb shot past Steve Harper for his ninth goal in 11 games against Newcastle.
It was all square after 20 minutes but both sides would have considered themselves unlucky to score only once in a thrilling first half at St James’ Park.
Obafemi Martins was a constant thorn in the United defense, firing into the side netting whilst also having an effort blocked by Rio Ferdinand as the visitors looked uncharacteristically shaky at the back.
Yet up front, the champions looked increasingly sharp, with a fit-again Rooney trying to power his way through the Newcastle defense and Dimitar Berbatov unlucky not to win a penalty after his shot appeared to strike Sebastien Bassong’s arm.
However, the closest the league leaders came to taking the lead was through a defender, Nemanja Vidic.
The Serbian connected with a superbly flighted Michael Carrick corner but from a couple of yards he couldn’t keep his effort below the bar as a pulsating first-half ended honors even.
After a thrillingly open opening 45 minutes, more goals appeared inevitable after the break and so it proved, after only 10 minutes of the restart.
Again it was a case of poor defending, although this time from the hosts with the finger of blame pointed firmly at Steven Taylor.
The defender attempted to chest a ball back to Harper, but instead only succeeded in allowing Park to rob the ball and square to Berbatov who gratefully grabbed the opportunity to put the visitors ahead.
It was a bad mistake but Sir Alex Ferguson’s men could have extended their lead.
A curling shot by Rooney was well saved by Harper before Berbatov also forced the Newcastle stopper to tip a fine effort over after good work by Rooney and Ronaldo.
Perhaps the best effort of all came to Rooney though, after Harper had blocked Ronaldo, the England international looked odds on to score but shot over.
However, the second half was not without its scares for the champions who were grateful to Carrick after the midfielder denied Martins with a last ditch tackle, with only minutes remaining before Van der Sar also saved well from the Nigerian late on.
Yet the champions held on to restore their lead at the top of the table. Newcastle, meanwhile, remain perilously close to the drop zone and will be seriously concerned, especially seeing as the next two visitors to St James’ are none other than Arsenal and Chelsea.
Newcastle: Harper, Steven Taylor, Coloccini, Bassong, Jose Enrique, Lovenkrands, Ryan Taylor (Carroll, 76), Geremi, Gutierrez, Martins, Smith (LuaLua, 82).
Man Utd: Van der Sar, O'Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Ronaldo, Fletcher, Carrick, Park, Berbatov (Giggs, 90), Rooney.
1-2 Manchester United (Berbatov, 56)
1-1 Manchester United (Rooney, 20)
1-0 Newcastle United (Lovenkrands, 9)
Gill Clark, Goal.com