A late Alexis Sanchez header may well have saved Jose Mourinho’s job as the Chilean popped up with the all-important winner that spared Manchester United an embarrassing home defeat to struggling Newcastle United.
The Portuguese’s future at Old Trafford had been the subject of speculation before the match, with the club forced to deny media reports on Friday that they were set to part ways with Mourinho regardless of Saturday’s result.
But if the United board needed proof the United squad were still behind their manager, and that he was still capable of inspiring the best out of a squad packed with world-class talent but seemingly lacking direction, Sanchez, summoned from the substitutes bench, and the rest of the players offered it.
Goals from Kenedy and Yoshinori Muto gave Newcastle a dream start before a Juan Mata free kick and an Anthony Martial strike had looked to earn a share of the spoils against a side that has failed to win in the Premier League this season. But Sanchez climbed to head home an Ashley Young cross on 90 minutes to spare United’s blushes as they looked to be headed for a fifth home match without a victory.
United found themselves 2-0 down in the first 10 minutes, the first time they have suffered that ignominy at home since New Year’s Day in 1992. Newcastle, who had only scored four league goals heading into the game, were ahead after only seven minutes when Kenedy cut in from the right to unleash an unstoppable shot past David de Gea.
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If that was a shock, what followed three minutes later left Old Trafford stunned and Mourinho seemingly staring into the abyss. Jonjo Shelvey’s cross found Yoshinori Muto who turned past the recalled Young too easily before rifling home.
Mourinho immediately sent his substitutes out to warm up and after 18 minutes made his first change, replacing defender Eric Bailly, whose effort in trying to prevent Newcastle’s opener was questionable, with midfielder Mata.
With Newcastle supporters gleefully singing “You’re getting sacked in the morning”, United’s players threw caution to the wind as they looked to claw their way back.
Marcus Rashford wasted an excellent chance when he directed his header from a Romelu Lukaku cross wide on 22 minutes.
Mourinho introduced Marouane Fellaini for Scott McTominay at half time while Sanchez was called for at the expense of Rashford just past the hour. Captain Antonio Valencia, who was forced to apologise this week after “liking” an Instagram post calling for Mourinho to be sacked, was left out of the matchday squad altogether.
With the disquiet from United supporters, who have largely backed Mourinho during a difficult start to the campaign, becoming audible, Mata conjured a moment of magic with a superb free kick on seventy minutes to reduce the deficit.
Mourinho encouraged his players to attack, a familiar soundbite among supporters this term, and an excellent save from Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka denied Chris Smalling.
It only delayed the inevitable. On 76 minutes United finally got the equaliser they deserved. Paul Pogba cushioned ball directly into Martial’s path and the French forward beat Dubravk at his near post with a fierce shot.
Sensing blood, United piled forward and when Young picked out Sanchez in a crowded area, the Chilean, one of several players reported to have fallen out with Mourinho in recent weeks, rose tallest to earn United the three points and his manager a reprieve.