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Newcastle away has tended to be a difficult fixture, but Manchester United were more than up for the challenge on Sunday. An early flurry of goals from the visitors put Alan Pardew's side into a hole that they simply weren't able to dig themselves out of, and while the 3-0 scoreline is perhaps not quite indicative of a match in which Newcastle were actually rather good for long spells, the hosts' complete inability to defend when they weren't on top made the result more than fair.
It was clear from the beginning that Manchester United were planing on taking this match more seriously than they did last year. Danny Welbeck nearly got things started in the fifth minute following a clever backheel by centre back Johnny Evans, but his mis-hit shot squibbed sadly into Steve Harper's arms rather than into the back of the net. But they weren't to be denied, and it was Evans who made the breakthrough, smashing home a header from a corner three minutes later. Newcastle had yet to mount a significant attack.
Patrice Evra doubled the visitors' lead in the 15th minute from similar circumstances, and the two-goal margin was well deserved. Manchester United had been thoroughly dominant, and it seemed abundantly clear that they were going to win. And then they dropped off and allowed Newcastle back into the game.
David de Gea was mostly to blame for any chances that the hosts generated -- the young goalkeeper is a fine shot stopper but lacks any aerial presence whatsoever, and he was repeatedly bullied by the Newcastle of Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba. At no point was that more obvious than in the 50th minute, when the 21-year-old went up against Ba and ended up nowhere near it.
Fortunately for Manchester United, the Senegalese striker's looping header bounced off the crossbar. Somewhat less fortunately, it fell straight to Cisse, who poked it back into what was looking like a very empty net. Then de Gea pulled off a miracle, clawing the ball away just as it looked like crossing the line. A panicked defence was just about able to scramble clear.
That save, despite coming at 2-0 up, was a turning point. Between Evra's goal and Ba hitting woodwork, the visitors had looked decidedly second best, but coming so close seemed to deflate Newcastle and they allowed Manchester United to come back into the game. And it was Sir Alex Ferguson's team who managed the next, killer goal.
I won't say it was an accident, but it was totally an accident. In the Tom Cleverley had the ball on the left, shaped for a cross, and deposited a delightful effort straight into the top corner of poor Harper's goal. That strike put to bed any talk of an unlikely comeback (and that match against Arsenal two years ago did spring to mind), and Manchester United saw out the rest of the match without too much of a problem.
The win puts the visitor into second place on goal differential (they're one ahead of Manchester City), while Newcastle remain in tenth.