Dark, damp, decidedly chilly, October nights on Tyneside can rarely have proved as restorative. After arriving apparently in urgent need of running repairs, Manchester United boarded their flight home from the north east exuding the recharged glow of holidaymakers en route from a fortnight in the sun.
Although, an albeit often overly deep-sitting, Newcastle played their counterattacking part in an often engrossingly entertaining contest, Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s revamped side deservedly put their recent stumbles behind them with goals from Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Marcus Rashford.
Although the latter three came in the final minutes, those home fans who opted not to pay the scandalous £14.95 pay-per-view fee demanded on top of their monthly satellite subscription and, instead, donated the money to a local food bank are unlikely to harbour any regrets.
“We showed great character and resilience,” said a clearly relieved Solskjær. “The boys have come together really well.”
He made five changes from the team thrashed 6-1 by Tottenham and demanded “a response”. Within two minutes a visiting XI minus the dropped Paul Pogba were behind courtesy of a Luke Shaw own goal. It featured the most wicked of deflections – Emil Krafth’s cross ricocheted off the defender’s stretching leg and beyond a wrong-footed David de Gea – but came at the end of a rapid, and incisive, Newcastle break involving Allan Saint-Maximin, Callum Wilson and Jonjo Shelvey all too easily out-manoeuvring their supposed markers. The disappointing Victor Lindelöf proved especially at fault.
Now Solskjær really needed the right sort of riposte from his team and, reassuringly, he got one. Manchester United began passing and moving in a manner their hosts struggled to second guess with the excellent Fernandes and Juan Mata provoking considerable uncertainty among Bruce’s defence.
Fernandes thought he had scored after side-footing beyond Karl Darlow in the wake of a one-two with Mata but the goal was disallowed for an offside against the Spaniard. Solskjær frowned yet the storm clouds were about to lift.
Mata swiftly took a corner and was soon celebrating after Harry Maguire, arriving late in the box having expertly dodged Jamaal Lascelles, headed beyond Darlow from six yards. At the end of an unfortunate week with England, Manchester United’s captain had finally proved he can do something right after all. Moreover that equaliser sparked an immediate improvement in his defensive game.
With the visitors looking particularly strong down their left flank, Krafth had begun to struggle at right-back and Federico Fernández made some important interceptions, while Darlow did well to save the impressive Marcus Rashford’s 20-yard shot.
Not to be outdone, De Gea performed similar wonders to deny Saint-Maximin, whose extravagantly fancy footwork subsequently succeeded in bamboozling Maguire and friends to the point where the Frenchman eventually crossed in Wilson’s direction. The striker’s connection – via an extended boot – was true but De Gea responded with a world-class reflex save. Maybe Dean Henderson’s presence on the bench is sharpening his concentration.
The drama continued as VAR spotted a potential penalty and Craig Pawson agreed Jamal Lewis’s boot had made contact with Rashford’s shin. Up stepped Fernandes but Darlow threw out the strongest of diversionary hands.
Atonement beckoned for the Portuguese in the wake of his first penalty miss in a Manchester United shirt. Indeed Fernandes quickly proceeded to curl in a sublime curling effort following Rashford’s gorgeous reverse pass before Wan-Bissaka rifled the ball into the roof of the net and Fernandes – who else? – cued up Rashford to shoot beyond Darlow.
“We were naive towards the end,” said Bruce. “But we were in it for 85 minutes. The defeat looks worse than it really is. It was cruel.”