Towards the end of last season Newcastle fans unveiled a banner that said: “we don’t demand a team that wins, we demand a club that tries.” On Saturday at Old Trafford you would have found it difficult to find someone who could fault the effort of those in white and blue.
The back five were all superb defensively, and combined with the tireless work from the likes of Vurnon Anita, an out of position Ayoze Perez and who could forget everyone’s favourite Serbian Aleksandar Mitrovic who quite simply ran until he could run no more.
It is in fact very difficult to criticise any member of Steve McClaren’s side for their performance. On Saturday afternoon it looked like Newcastle had a definite plan of how to play and after the first fifteen minutes an almost impeccable defensive shape, both of which were nothing but a distant dream under John Carver last year.
Having said that the first fifteen minutes felt like the Alamo. Wave after wave of attack came at us but our defence held out thanks to some poor finishing, good defending and brave officiating- The latter was especially enjoyable given that most Manchester United fans took at least ten seconds to clock that the linesman had put his flag up.
After the initial difficulty though, the magpies grew into the game and came closest to breaking the deadlock as Mitrovic rose superbly to meet Mbemba’s cross and was desperately unlucky to see it come back off the bar. From that moment onwards the away players and supporters grew in belief that we may be able to get something from this game.
The second half was quite slow to get started with very few chances in the early exchanges, the noise from the away end was however, relentless. After winning a corner though, Mitro decided the volume needed to be turned up. He looked over to the travelling contingent and pumped his arms a couple of times. The message was received well and clearly with a monumental roar which seemed to put a smile on his face along with the chants of: “MITRO, MITRO, MITRO”.
Florian Thauvin came on to make his debut and immediately put English football’s most expensive Left Back on his backside and despite 70 odd thousand of them getting more and more frustrated as they bemoaned the seemingly endless amount of square balls they played, inevitably Man United began to turn the screw.
Once again they were denied by magnificent defending, Tim Krul and their own wasteful finishing. Then came the terrifying ordeal that was injury time.
Four minutes felt like an hour and began with Chris Smalling heading against our post before a wonderful break by Thauvin, Wijnaldum and Cisse ended with Thauvin millimeters away from the perfect debut. It wasn’t finished there though as with one minute to go Coloccini could only clear as far as Michael Carrick who’s effort was deflected marginally wide and made 1,800 Geordies feel like we needed a change of pants.
Anyway we managed to see it through and the relief for all involved was extreme, with both players and fans exasperated at the full time whistle. Walking around Manchester after full time and talking to some of their fans it also felt good to hear many of them talk positively about us saying things like: “how come you lot have learned how to defend now”.
After the disappointment of last week games like Saturday serve as a reminder to us all as to why we get up at stupid hours of the morning to travel hundreds of miles at great expense and yet love every minute of it. It was a day to be proud of those players and appreciate their efforts. Had this game happened six weeks down the line I have no doubt that we would have posed more of a threat up top but suppose we can’t complain too much at a point and a clean sheet at Old Trafford.