On my way to Manchester by train, I cast my mind back to the same fixture last season. I was stood
on the barrier separating the home and away fans. When Dwight Gayle put us into the lead, I nearly
ended up over the barrier and in the Man Utd fans’ laps. Surely we couldn’t conjure up something
similar this season…?

I met up with Alex, Ben and Cowley at Hotel Football across the road from Old Trafford, where we
were very kindly being hosted by one of True Faith’s sponsors, FansBet. Also on our table were a few
of the lads from Manchester United fanzine ‘United We Stand’.

During our meal, we were treated to a talk in from Wales manager Ryan Giggs, followed by Sky
Sports’ Gary Neville. Obviously the main focus of the conversations with them was about the current
‘turmoil’ at Man Utd, with Mourinho’s job reportedly being on the line. Both were very critical of the
club’s owners and said the structure of the football club needed sorting out from top to bottom if
they were to stand any chance of competing in the Premier League again.

Interestingly, the lads from UWS said that the Glazers had taken £1 billion out of the club during
their ownership. Compare that to the £1 billion that Manchester City have put in to their club, they
do not see how they can compete with their rivals any time in the near future at least. I couldn’t help
but chuckle when they said that they may have to settle for just the one trophy this season,
something us Toon fans would kill for. But it’s all relative isn’t it.

Alex broke the team news to us. The noticeable inclusions of Muto and Manquillo being the talking
points. The four of us were pretty excited to see Muto get a start. He has been bright in the spells he
has had playing as a sub for us this season. There was some ‘concern’ about Javi Manquillo playing at
left back, shall we say.

We finished up our meal and drinks in the hotel and then headed over to Old Trafford. There was a
heavy Police presence outside the away turnstiles, much bigger than I saw last year. The anti-Ashley
chants were in full flow as we queued to get through the turnstiles and searches by the stewards.
We took our place in the packed out away end just in time to see the teams emerge from the
players’ tunnel, Newcastle wearing the almost illuminous blue third kit.

I had found this game really difficult to predict before kick-off. I certainly didn’t expect us to win. My
prediction I gave to my mate earlier in the day was 3-0 to Man Utd. After a few beers the best I
hoped for was 0-0. I couldn’t even imagine we would score at Old Trafford, given the way we had
played in the games leading up to this one. It was also widely known that my last three away games
(Porto, Cardiff & Palace) had all ended 0-0! I’d have taken that score line before kick-off.

What a start we made to the game. Perez’ pass to Kenedy was excellent and the cut inside and finish
from the Brazilian winger was superb. Especially when you consider the world class goalkeeper he
was up against in David De Gea. When that goal went in the away end just erupted. It’s a great
feeling isn’t it? That’s why we do it, travel all these miles and spend our hard earned money
following our team. Ending up jumping around screaming and hugging your best mates, family, or
just complete strangers.

I had barely settled down after Kenedy’s goal when three minutes later, Jonjo drilled a low cross into
Man Utd’s box from the right wing. Yoshinori Muto controlled it brilliantly, swivelled and smashed it
low into the net.

I can’t really remember what happened except that it was utter jubilation amongst the Toon fans.
What a feeling. Once we had settled down from celebrating, I was physically shaking from the adrenaline rush that goal gave me. I remember looking at the scoreboard to see how long we had
played and couldn’t believe we were only in the 11th minute. We had a long way to go to defend this
lead. But at 2-0 up, I genuinely believed we would not lose this game.

Give credit to Mourinho for the changes he made in response to going two goals down, he basically
flooded his team with midfielders. Mata came on for centre back Eric Bailly after just twenty
minutes, signalling his intent to go for it.

One thing Alex and I said to each other at this point was how much better a side we looked when we
had the ball and were looking to attack. We were showing some real confidence going forward,
which was to be admired given the team we were up against and being away from home.
I think it was around twenty five minutes into the first half when we won a free kick on the left
corner of Man Utd’s 18 yard box. Jonjo Shelvey took it and looked like he was attempting to score.
The ball clearly hit the wall and went behind for what should have been a corner. I was furious when
referee Anthony Taylor gave only a goal kick. At the time, we had no idea that the ball had struck
Ashley Young on an outstretched arm. The replay clearly shows we should have had a penalty there.
And if we had taken that to go 3-0 up, Man Utd wouldn’t have got back into the game, I’m sure of
that.

On the subject of the referee, he was very inconsistent with his cards. He failed to book Paul Pogba on two occasions for dissent when he kicked the ball away in anger, yet he gave Matt Ritchie a
yellow card for taking a free kick too early. Why give a yellow for that!? Strange.

We reached half time 2-0 up and I just felt that Rafa would use his tactical experience to see the
game out. I said to Alex, this second half was going to potentially be one of the most important
halves of our season. Hang on for the win, it could be the turning point. Let it slip to a draw, or worse
to a defeat, it would be another huge knock to the lads’ confidence.

Mourinho put yet another midfielder on at half time in the shape of Marouane Fellaini. He was now
playing Nemanja Matic at centre back alongside Chris Smalling. As play went on, we could see there
was an opportunity down our right side for Yedlin and Ritchie to get at Luke Shaw and Matic, as the
Serbian was pushing so far forward when they had possession, and Marcus Rashford was offering
little defensively from their left wing.
At the end of the day, Man Utd were able to bring on Mata, Fellaini and Alexis Sanchez from the
bench. Options Rafa Benitez can only dream of having in his starting eleven, yet alone on is bench.
Around the hour mark, Kenedy made good progress down the left wing. He moved inside to the
edge of Man Utd’s box into a great shooting position. His shot blazed over the bar, in what was a
great chance to go 3-0 up and in all likelihood kill the game off. If he’d kept it low, De Gea would
have been in real trouble.

Mo Diame, who had a good game, gave away a freekick on the edge of our box, which Juan Mata
scored from brilliantly. When you have players of such quality who are able to do that, you always
have a chance of taking that kind of an opportunity. And it was that moment of magic that gave
them the platform to get back into the game.
Just after this, we got the ball into Man Utd’s box again and there was a bit of a scramble, ending in
a back heel attempt on goal from Matt Ritchie, which was saved at close range by De Gea. Another
chance that went begging. You just sensed at this point it wasn’t going to go for us.

The home team really piled on the pressure and got the equaliser through Antony Martial after a
neat one two with Pogba on the edge of our box. Huge disappointment after the lead we had had
and the opportunities we’d missed to extend our lead.

You could see at this point that the lads had given absolutely everything. Shelvey, Diame, Perez and
Muto looked absolutely exhausted.
Once again we had another great chance to score when from a corner, Mo Diame had a free header
at goal. Any sort of decent connection on the ball would have sent it past the keeper, but he only got
a slight glance on it, which still sent it goalwards, but without enough power to get it over the line
and the Man Utd defence were able to make it safe. This just felt like another sign this second half
wasn’t going our way.

Atsu came on for Muto and Joselu for Perez. Substitutions in stark contrast to the ones made by our superior opposition.

One thing I would say about Atsu – when you come on with ten minutes of the game remaining, you
expect the player to put 90 minutes of effort into that last 10 minutes. I think I would be being kind
to the Ghanaian if I said he put 5 minutes of effort in. The lad looked uninterested and unenthused.
His pressing was lacklustre and positional awareness very poor. Now that’s not his nor Rafa Benitez’ fault. We are just working with the resources that we have. But I did want to see a lot more effort
and energy from him, which was worryingly absent. This was another appearance that made me
think he isn’t Premier League quality, which I’m sure Rafa is more than aware of.

Then of course Sanchez finished off the comeback and condemned us to yet another pointless
encounter. A game which promised so much for us at the end of the first half had turned into
nothing. At full time, our players were slumped on the playing surface as though they had just lost a
cup final. You could tell it hurt them as much as it hurt us. Rafa went onto the pitch and helped the
players to their feet and they gave a brief applause to the away fans before heading back into the
dressing room.

I could barely speak after the match – I had clearly been singing and shouting much more than I had
realised. To be honest, it was probably from celebrating our goals early on.

Just keep this in mind – in one calendar year, Alexis Sanchez earns the same amount in wages from
Manchester United as Newcastle’s all-time record transfer fee (£16m). And he came on as a
substitute in this match. This is what we are battling against in these types of games. So losing 3-2
away from home was absolutely no disgrace here. It just always feels worse when you’ve let that
lead slip away.

We saw the promise of Muto playing up front with Perez. We saw Kenedy full of confidence, after
the poor form he’s shown since Cardiff. We scored two goals against a team that will likely finish in
the top four or five this season. Manquillo played well standing in at left back. Mo Diame and Jonjo
Shelvey continue to impress together in the middle of the park. Dubravka is an absolute rock
between the sticks. Keep focused on the positives.
After the two week international break, we now have a run of ten games against teams outside the
usual ‘top six’. Brighton at home is first up, which really is a huge game for us now. If we don’t get a
decent haul of points during this ten game run, then we can say we are in real trouble.
All in all, I feel more positive now (after this game against Man Utd) about avoiding relegation this
season.

Howay The Lads

By Rob Clothier

@robclothier14