x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

A battling draw serves purposes for both Uniteds

Manchester United miss out on moving nine points clear at the top of the Premier League after being held 0-0 at Newcastle.

Newcastle United’s goalkeeper Tim Krul prevents Javier Hernandez from scoring in the first half at St James’ Park last night.
Newcastle United’s goalkeeper Tim Krul prevents Javier Hernandez from scoring in the first half at St James’ Park last night.

Newcastle United 0 // Manchester United 0

NEWCASTLE // Manchester United's title challenge has been built on an ability to overcome all-comers at Old Trafford and a habit of picking up points without always convincing on their travels.

It has proved invaluable. If their away record is far from outstanding, it is nevertheless a reason why they awake this morning with a seven-point lead at the summit of the Premier League.

A hard-fought draw served purposes for both teams, nudging Sir Alex Ferguson's team nearer to an historic 19th title and enabling Newcastle to reach the 40-point barrier.

The two clubs' suffix was apt - they were united in effort as well as in a share of the spoils.

For Manchester United, this is a rare occasion when they have failed to score in successive games but stalemate is rarely as inappropriate a term. This was fresh and frenetic, endearingly open if ultimately inconclusive.

The visitors' clean sheet owed much to the defiance of Nemanja Vidic, especially in a first half they spent largely on the defensive. They were troubled on Tyneside as Newcastle attacked them with verve, the Magpies deploying an age-old approach designed to endear them to the St James' Park crowd.

At a club where wingers tend to be cherished, Newcastle played with width and using the contrasting styles on either flank, with Joey Barton's measured crossing an antidote to Jonas Gutierrez's manic dribbling.

Pressure was not converted into chances, however, until the stroke of half-time when Barton picked out an unmarked Peter Lovenkrands, who headed wastefully wide.

While they played on the front foot, the league leaders had clear-cut opportunities on the counter attack.

Ferguson had recalled his first-choice strikers, with Javier Hernandez a substitute in Saturday's FA Cup defeat to Manchester City while Wayne Rooney returned from a two-match suspension.

Each proved capable of breaking at pace. Tim Krul made a point-blank block to thwart the Mexican, who had been supplied by his fellow forward, while the Englishman bulldozed his way through and then blazed over.

Hernandez's pace meant he posed a permanent threat. When he dragged Newcastle deeper, it fashioned space for others.

So it was for the best chance of the game, Patrice Evra cutting the ball back from the byline for Ryan Giggs. Having ghosted into the space, the veteran, to his own disbelief, sent his shot bobbling just wide.

Nani and Rooney were off target, too, as they finished much the stronger with Hernandez cautioned for simulation when Danny Simpson's challenge could have produced a penalty.

The latter stages were also notable for two brief cameos. Michael Owen, relegated with Newcastle in 2009, emerged to jeers from the home crowd.

The hosts, meanwhile, gave a belated debut for Stephen Ireland, signed on loan in January, and the former City midfielder's first meaningful contribution was a volley that narrowly missed Edwin van der Sar's near post.

While Mancunian one-upmanship may be restricted to Wembley, Newcastle held their own. They are all but safe now which ranks as an achievement for any promoted club, even one as big as them.

sports@thenational.ae