Hardly gorgeous, but United are grinding out results
MAN UNITED 1
(Ashley Young 89)
Another uninspiring performance, another laborious win.
It is not wrong to say that Manchester United rode on their luck as they eked out a 1-0 away win at Newcastle yesterday morning (Singapore time).
With a minute left on the clock, they averted disaster through an Ashley Young goal that came off a shocking Newcastle defensive blunder.
With Arsenal, Liverpool, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur all posting victories in midweek to continue their relentless chase for a top-four spot, a draw for United would have felt like two points dropped.
For Man United's harshest critics, that's five wins in their last seven Premiership games now.
Have they been simply lucky, or have they mastered the art of winning ugly without playing well under Louis van Gaal?
The Red Devils' display at St James' Park was a truly forgettable one, reminiscent of the toothless performances during the David Moyes era.
Possession without penetration is pointless.
Despite 67 per cent of possession, Man United struggled to create an impression up front.
Newcastle didn't see much of the ball, but yet didn't deserve to lose the game.
Such was United's bluntness in the final third of the field and incompetence in their own penalty box.
The ineptitude of the referee Anthony Taylor and his assistant saved the Red Devils' skin in the 10th minute, when Chris Smalling bundled Newcastle forward Emmanuel Riviere over in the penalty area, but Taylor kept the whistle in his pocket.
Goalkeeper David de Gea, for the umpteenth time this season, saved his team's blushes with his excellent point-blank stop from Frenchman Riviere shortly after the break.
Newcastle then shot themselves in the foot when Papiss Cisse, with the goal at his mercy, dragged his effort wide.
Like it or not, the fact is that Man United got the job done.
They did it with Angel di Maria playing like a man crumbling under pressure.
They did it with Radamel Falcao so distrusted by manager Louis van Gaal that he was left on the bench throughout the match.
And they did it with defender Smalling performing like an updated version of Titus Bramble.
Despite all the unpalatable stuff they dished out, they stayed patient and were rewarded with the late winner after Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul presented the ball to Young in the box.
Had this been Chelsea instead of United, some might have called it resilience.
The next few weeks will pose a real test to United's credentials for a top-four finish.
They face Tottenham at home in their next league game on March 15, before travelling to Anfield for a grudge match against Liverpool a week later.
April doesn't get any easier either, with games against Man City and Chelsea set to push them to their limit.
The tough run-in to the finishing line leaves no more room for error in their fight for Champions League football next season.
We will find out what Man United are really made of.
People are always going to question the biggest club in the world but we just concentrate on ourselves and don’t listen to anybody else.
— Man United match-winner Ashley Young
NOT ME: Jonny Evans (left, seen here confronting Papiss Cisse) insists that it not in his character to spit at anybody.
Manchester United defender Jonny Evans and Newcastle striker Papiss Cisse could be out for as many as six matches if they are found guilty of spitting at each other.
The Football Association will investigate the alleged incident which happened in their clubs' EPL clash yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Press Association Sport understands disciplinary chiefs are awaiting match referee Anthony Taylor's report, while reviewing video footage from the game, which saw United win 1-0 at St James' Park.
The pair clashed after an Evans challenge on Cisse, with television replays suggesting both men had spat during an ugly confrontation.
Both players issued statements last night. Evans insisted that he did not spit at Cisse, claiming that it is "not in his character to spit at any anybody", while Cisse apologised.
He said: "I would like to make it clear that I did not spit at Papiss Cisse.
"I was totally unaware of any spitting incident and had assumed that the issue at the time was with the challenge and his attempted retaliation to the tackle from the floor."
Meanwhile, Cisse said: "I have apologies to make to a lot of people today.
"Firstly to my teammates and to our supporters, secondly to Jonny Evans, and thirdly to every football fan who saw the incident between myself and Jonny."
Cisse added: "I reacted to something I found very unpleasant. Sometimes it is hard not to react, particularly in the heat of the moment.
"I have always tried hard to be a positive role model, especially for our young fans, and yesterday, I let you down."
Last season, then-Hull striker George Boyd served a three-match suspension for spitting at Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart, a charge which he denied.
However, this season's FA disciplinary guidelines state that the punishment should be double of that, which could prove costly for both clubs.
United face Arsenal in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday morning and Premier League top-four rivals Tottenham and Liverpool in the next few weeks, while Cisse is Newcastle's leading goalscorer on 11.
United boss Louis van Gaal insisted that he could not imagine defender Evans spitting at a fellow professional.
He said: "I didn't see that from the bench. It's too far to see spitting, so I cannot judge that. But I cannot imagine that Jonny Evans, because he is a very modest person, that he could do that."
Newcastle head coach John Carver admitted that he was unaware of the details until asked about it in a post-match television interview.
He said: "I genuinely haven't seen the incident. I just saw a fracas on the halfway line between the two players and the referee spoke to them. I need to have a look at it."
United extended their run to just two defeats in 22 games in all competitions, courtesy of Ashley Young's late winner, which came when Mehdi Abeid, under intense pressure from Wayne Rooney, stabbed a back pass towards goalkeeper Tim Krul, whose efforts to clear only served to tee up the midfielder for the winner. - Wire Services.
What other spitters got
FRANCESCO TOTTI (Three-match ban at Euro 2004)
The Italy forward was hit with a three-match ban for spitting at Denmark's Christian Poulsen in the opening game of Group C after an appeal was lodged with Uefa following the goalless draw.
PATRICK VIEIRA (Six-match ban in EPL, 1999)
Having been shown a second yellow card, the Arsenal captain spat furiously at West Ham defender Neil Ruddock, picking up a fine and a six-game ban for his misdemeanour. Arsenal lost the game 2-1.
EL HADJI DIOUF (Two-match ban in Uefa Cup, 2003)
The former Liverpool winger was banned for two games, fined two weeks' wages by the club and a further £5,000 ($10,500) by Glasgow's sheriff court when he aimed saliva at Celtic fans during Liverpool's 1-1 Uefa Cup tie at Celtic Park.
FABIEN BARTHEZ (Six-month ban in 2005)
Having returned to Marseille, the former Manchester United goalkeeper was handed a six-month ban after spitting at the referee following an on-field brawl between the French side and Wydad Casablanca during a friendly match. - PA Sport.
Di Maria struggles again
Louis van Gaal said this week that it could take £60-million ($126m) man Angel di Maria a year to adapt to life at Old Trafford but it took the United boss 59 minutes to decide he had seen enough at St James' Park.
Another unconvincing display was brought prematurely to an end moments after di Maria (above) flopped a hopeless right-wing cross into a visitors' box bereft of teammates.
But it could have been a different story if di Maria - hauled off at half-time in last Saturday's 2-0 win over Sunderland - had made his mark inside the opening minute.
Di Maria was sent through after a mistake by Magpies defender Mehdi Abeid, but he hesitated with the goal at his mercy and the chance was lost.
The Argentinian was afforded plenty of space on the right flank but worked in fits and starts and was well marshalled by home pair Ryan Taylor and Sammy Ameobi.
When he was too easily robbed in his own half one minute before the interval, it sparked a charge upfield from Moussa Sissoko, which ended in a clear-cut chance for Emmanuel Riviere in the visitors' box.
The former Real Madrid player did offer the occasional hint of quality when he provided the cross from which Marouane Fellaini, then Ashley Young brought fine saves out of Tim Krul.
But, shortly after one wasted opportunity too many, di Maria was substituted again with the home fans' chants of "what a waste of money" ringing in his ears. - PA Sport.