Perhaps, and it is a very flimsy perhaps at this stage, there is a burning of the old Manchester United DNA inside the team that Louis van Gaal is dragging into the fight for a Champions League qualifying place.
By the very finest of margins, they have now won 15 of their last 22 games. It was the 89th minute last night when his misfiring team, with Juan Mata on, Marouane Fellaini off, Radamel Falcao dropped and Angel Di Maria cursing his own substitution, found something to grab an unlikely victory.
It was then that Wayne Rooney, whose desire is leading a team who were once more implored to attack by their own supporters in the game’s closing stages, forced uncertainty amongst three Newcastle defenders, to such an extent that Mehdi Abeid lost his head and passed to his goalkeeper from a matter of yards.
Tim Krul, who until then had been excellent, hacked a clearance to Ashley Young and his quickness of foot and crisp finish gave his side victory. Young slapped the club crest on his shirt as he roared to those celebrating supporters.
It was rarely pretty, but the manager has already spoken of his lack of concern about that missing element of his side. Manchester United destroyed Newcastle 4-0 at the same ground last season and David Moyes is now managing in Spain.
The storm until Young’s late strike belonged to Papiss Cissé and the close-range spit he fired into the neck of Jonny Evans just before half-time. The former certainly appeared fortunate to have stayed on the field after the two came together.
Evans looked more innocent, appearing to spit to the floor after the pair had tangled. Cissé did not see it like that, immediately moving within inches of the Northern Irish defender and spitting. It was a major moment which, like the penalty Newcastle should have been awarded in the game’s opening stage, was missed by the referee Anthony Taylor. For that, Cissé is potentially facing FA retrospective action.
Their manager John Carver believed United’s goal followed a throw that should have gone to his side and not the visitors.
Newcastle should have had their penalty in the ninth minute, when Chris Smalling clipped the legs of Emmanuel Rivière as he broke through on the left side of the Manchester United penalty area. There was an argument that referee Taylor’s view of the incident was blocked. It was not a defence for his assistant, Peter Kirkup.
The storm overshadowed a half in which Van Gaal’s side should have led. They were territorially dominant and dangerous without ever truly finding the cutting edge that remains elusive.
The best opportunities had been theirs. On the half hour, Fabricio Coloccini fell over when under no pressue, which allowed Di Maria to again pick out Rooney and Krul closed him down quickly.
Rivière’s was an evening to forget. In the 48th minute Coloccini picked him out with a fine header from a Ryan Taylor free-kick. From a matter of feet he had just De Gea to beat at the Gallowgate End but his weak shot was flicked away by the visiting goalkeeper.
Adnan Januzaj of Manchester United replaces Angel Di Maria
The save from Van Gaal’s fellow countryman Krul was far more impressive six minutes later. Fellaini had time to take the ball down on his chest and turn and Krul did extremely well to parry the ball to his right. From there Young took it down, switched it to his right foot and shot for goal, only to see his close-range shot bravely blocked by the Newcastle goalkeeper.
It had the potential to be a huge save. With 20 minutes remaining a dithering Ander Herrera was caught in possession by the substitute Ayoze Perez. The Spanish forward slipped Cissé through to his right, and the forward, who should not have been on the pitch, made a poor connection and dragged his right-foot shot wide of the far post.
De Gea still had to make one final key act after Young’s goal, saving superbly to his right to deny Cissé’s downward header in the 90th minute.