SIR Alex Ferguson stormed out of a Press conference this week after being asked why his team are “struggling” in Europe – so you can imagine what he’d make of the implication his Red Devils are vulnerable to a black-and-white raid on Old Trafford this afternoon.
Dropped points against Basel and Benfica made queries about their European credentials fair game, but the irascible Scot might be entitled to feel a little incredulous if their Premier League form was called into question.
Three successive single-goal wins have extended their lead over the chasing pack and kept Manchester’s United in touch with Roberto Mancini’s free-wheeling Citizens at the summit of the Premier League.
Indeed, if you discount the remarkable debacle against Manchester City, they have dropped just four points all season.
Yet somehow, Alan Pardew’s Newcastle arrive with the belief that they can wipe out nearly four decades of misery in the champions’ back yard.
Perhaps it is perceived weaknesses in an Old Trafford rearguard that has seen brighter days, or possibly it is the confidence of a group of players who felt “angry” that they had not inflicted more damage on Manchester City last weekend.
Whatever it is, you will not be able to accuse Newcastle of not believing in themselves as they enter the second of a trio of teak-tough tests.
And that – after years of travelling to Old Trafford saddled with an inferiority complex – has to represent progress.
Newcastle full-back Danny Simpson says: “I have heard it’s 39 years or something like that.
“It’s time to change that, but Newcastle have had some great games with them over the years.
“The main thing is that we believe we can actually get something. Last year maybe we didn’t have that belief, but this season is different.
“Whatever team they play it is a tough ask – they know how to win but we are confident we can go there and compete.
“We will have a go, of course. That is what the manager here is all about, he believes in us and has told us to be confident because of the position we are in right now. We are a good, hard working team with players who can score goals so there is no reason not to go to United, take the game to them and see how they react.”
Familiarity has certainly demystified some of the threat posed by a trip to Old Trafford.
The Magpies have two former Red Devils in their likely starting XI and neither Simpson nor Gabriel Obertan have spared former team-mates in the run-up to the game.
“I had a bit of banter with Patrice (Evra) because obviously me and Gabby Obertan will be against him on the right. Just a bit of banter saying ‘we’re going to beat you down our side’,” he said.
For Simpson, a first competitive return to Old Trafford is something of a career-defining moment.
Not many pick themselves up from the disappointment of being released by Sir Alex Ferguson and go on to establish themselves as a genuine top-flight performer, but after the progress of his last two campaigns, the proud Salford lad can count himself as one.
“I was there from 11 years old and to get into the squad and then to play for the first time was amazing. To learn from so many great players and play under Sir Alex, it taught me so much.
“Not only from playing with them but training, travelling, the whole experience was so beneficial. You get into the mentality of how they approach things, just how professional they are. I learned so much.
“You sort of know in the back of your mind when it’s time (to go) but some part of me was still hoping I could be in and around it.
“But I knew at the time for my benefit, to have the best career I could, it was about the right time to move on and kick on – especially when I got the phone call from Newcastle. They’re such a massive club.
“It was probably an easier decision than I thought because of the history of the club and how big the club are.”
Simpson’s career took a while to take off but he does boast the unique achievement of holding winner’s medals for both of the North East’s big two.
His time turning out for Sunderland under Roy Keane feels a long time ago but winner’s medals are winner’s medals – and both are important.
“My mum’s got them,” he laughs. “There’s a picture of me up on the wall and she’s got the medals either side of that.
“It’s something that I forget because it does seem so long ago that I was at Sunderland and we won the trophy.
“I don’t think there’s many players who have done that.
“It was a good experience at the time. I went with Jonny Evans under Roy Keane as well, who I looked up to as a manager.
“I learned a lot from that experience, and coming to Newcastle under Chris Hughton was another big part of my career up to now.”