Manchester United reclaimed second spot with victory – despite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer being without his entire coaching staff due to Covid.
Solskajer’s trusted coaching team were forced to isolate, with former United star Nicky Butt among those drafted in to help him out on the bench.
But the performance was far from convincing and with three of their next four league games against direct rivals – Chelsea, City and West Ham – they will have to raise their level if they are to emerge from that run still in control of their top-four destiny.
Having picked up just six points from 15, to effectively fall out of the title race and allow others to make up ground in the race for a top-four spot, United could not afford to drop any more here.
Newcastle, with two wins in their last 13 league games, found themselves firmly in the fight for survival, and there was no respite for Steve Bruce’s side here, leaving Old Trafford empty-handed.
Bruce’s side gave United an early scare, Joelinton’s volleyed effort taking a deflection off Victor Lindelof and almost catching out David de Gea, who tipped the ball over for a corner.
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De Gea was at fault six minutes later, inexplicably passing the ball straight to Joelinton, who squared it to Jonjo Shelvey. Thankfully for the goalkeeper, Shelvey hoofed his effort high over the bar and into the stand behind his goal.
Despite being 14 places below their hosts, Newcastle played with far more enterprise, United strangely subdued for a side that seemed to have rediscovered their spark with their 4-0 Europa League win over Real Sociedad in midweek.
Solskjaer’s side were sloppy in possession and sluggish off the ball, but took the lead on the half-hour, thanks to a moment of individual brilliance from Marcus Rashford.
Rashford picked the ball up on the left and nutmegged Emil Krafth, then beat him once more for good measure, before drilling a low shot inside Karl Darlow’s near post.
Was Marcus Rashford’s strike a goal-of-the-season contender? Have your say in the comments.
It was Rashford’s 18th goal of the season and his second in as many games, but United’s lead was short-lived. De Gea had to be alert to tip an effort from Allan Saint-Maximin over the bar and behind for a corner.
But De Gea was unable to replicate those heroics from the resulting corner, United’s defence caught flat-footed as Saint-Maximin reacted quickest, meeting the ball on the rise and sending it into the roof of the net.
The Toon continued to ask questions of United’s vulnerable defence, De Gea needing to get down low to his right to smother a low goalbound effort from Saint-Maximin five minutes after the restart.
Yet United restored their lead in the 56th minute, Bruno Fernandes getting the slightest touch to the ball to divert it away from Jamal Lewis and into the path of Daniel James, who composed himself before applying an emphatic finish and his third goal in as many games.
Fernandes scored his 22nd goal of the season from the penalty spot in the 74th minute, after Rashford was brought down by Joe Willock, giving United the breathing space they needed to see out the game.
United currently remain the best of the rest behind City, for Newcastle an unseemly battle for survival lies ahead, one they looked ill-equipped to win on current form.
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