Barclays Premier League 2010/11 – United 3 Newcastle 0
The Reds’ quest to regain the Barclays Premier League title began at Old Trafford on Monday night with a commanding win over newly-promoted Newcastle United.
Goals from Dimitar Berbatov and Darren Fletcher gave the home side a deserved lead at the break before substitute Ryan Giggs volleyed home a third to underline United’s dominance. By then, though, it was all academic: the result never looked in doubt against a Magpies outfit that struggled to take flight, despite an encouraging opening 10 minutes.
Before kick-off there was greater-than-usual anticipation in the pre-match television build-up, as fans waited to see what sort of side Sir Alex would name for this season opener. It soon transpired there was no room for the summer signings, as both Chris Smalling and Javier Hernandez started on the bench. Berbatov and Wayne Rooney were given the nod to lead the attack, while Patrice Evra, despite not featuring in any of United’s pre-season preparations, took up his familiar left-back position.
Fletcher and Paul Scholes, the latter taking part in his 15th consecutive opening-day fixture, were charged with bossing the centre of midfield and in former Red Alan Smith and tough-tackling Joey Barton found themselves up against formidable and physical foes.
The Magpies endured the expected early spell of sustained Reds pressure, but it was Chris Hughton’s side who fashioned the game’s first real opportunity. Andy Carroll had done well to win a corner off Vidic and it was the young centre-forward who rose highest to meet Joey Barton’s corner on 10 minutes; he’ll certainly feel he should have done better than head wide from six yards out.
At the other end, Sir Alex’s men were restricted to speculative shots from distance. Smith bravely blocked from O’Shea while neither Nani nor Rooney could bend free-kicks around the Newcastle wall. Worryingly for the vocal visiting support, though, Newcastle’s stubborn defending appeared to be accompanied by a desire to self-destruct, as James Perch and Fabricio Coloccini both gifted possession to the Reds in dangerous areas of the pitch. But Sir Alex’s men did themselves no favours, either: Scholes, masterful for most of the night, uncharacteristically picked the wrong pass when United had the Magpies on the back foot before Rooney unwittingly nicked a volley off Berbatov’s toes and then blasted over from 12 yards.
United’s perseverance and patience paid off on 33 minutes, though, when Berbatov latched onto Scholes’ pass to fire the Reds into the lead. Jose Enrique managed the merest of touches on Scholes’ defence-splitting ball but couldn’t divert it away from Berbatov, who finished low and hard into the far corner.
The visitors hinted at an immediate equaliser but United soon took the reins again, monopolising possession and asserting dominance. And it wasn’t long before the second goal arrived. Good link-up play from Nani and Evra on the left flank released the Frenchman into the penalty area. From there, his drilled cross bounced off Rooney and up, tantalisingly, for Fletcher to hit on the spin and send the Reds into the break with a deserved two-goal cushion.
The interval provided welcome respite for the visitors, but within minutes of the restart Sir Alex’s men were terrorising the Newcastle back four again. In fact, the hosts could easily have been four goals to the good by the hour mark. Scholes was denied what looked a decent shout for a penalty under a rash challenge by Coloccini before a delicious move involving five one-touch passes ended with Berbatov poking the ball just wide of Steve Harper’s left-hand upright.
Rooney’s frustrating evening – little came off for the England striker, who’s still without a club goal since March – came to an end on 63 minutes when Sir Alex introduced Javier Hernandez for his Old Trafford bow. The 22-year-old’s every touch was cheered by the home crowd and Scholes and Nani wasted no time in playing balls in behind the Newcastle defence for the speedy Mexican to chase.
Berbatov thrice produced clever skill close to goal that was exciting yet ultimately fruitless, while Newcastle substitute Shola Ameobi came closest for the visitors in the second half when he headed Barton’s corner well wide of the mark on 80 minutes.
In truth, though, the contest had been over after 45 minutes. It was clear then where the three points were heading; Ryan Giggs’ superb third – a volley with the outside of the foot after he’d been picked out by Scholes (who else?) at the back post – was little more than icing on the cake. – by Nick Coppack
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