In some respects Newcastle United’s 200th Premier League win was as much about the past as the present.
Normally looking back rather than forward is a bad thing, but at Old Trafford on Saturday it gave important context to the victory, and a huge lift to Magpie morale.
The present was important, instantly burying a 3-0 defeat to Swansea City and providing a welcome reminder of the tactical intelligence not only of Alan Pardew, but also those in the Brazil-style away kits. So was the manner of Newcastle’s fifth win in six games.
But the players who jumped into the arms of the coaching staff in front of away fans who would linger in the stands as long and as noisily as possible did so not because they had deservedly beaten a team below them in the league but because they had emphatically closed the book on 41 painful years of history.
Newcastle had won at Old Trafford before, but even the watching Ryan Giggs had not been born the last time it happened against Manchester United.
Viewed in the present, it should not come as a great surprise. This is a team which has recently beaten Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur and held Liverpool with ten men.
But just as this chapter of Newcastle’s history has at times weighed heavily on those who endured it, its passing will give the players a belief that nothing is beyond them this season. As Pardew put it, “We are not going to get a bigger stadium than that to play in. That bodes well for all the other grounds we are going to go to, including the Emirates.”
Southampton at home at the weekend is a big game for two sides who have punched above their weight in the first half of a remarkable Premier League season. As they ate their breakfast on Saturday morning most Newcastle supporters would have expected to go into it on the back of consecutive defeats. Instead the players will take to the St James’ Park pitch with their confidence overflowing.
As with many of the victories seen in this fixture over the last 41 years there was luck involved, but it had been earned. Yohan Cabaye’s 61st-minute shot, guided in after Moussa Sissoko overpowered Patrice Evra then pulled the ball back to him, took a deflection past David De Gea. Five minutes earlier Vurnon Anita had helped Evra’s header from a corner onto the post he was defending with the help of his arm.
The statistics backed up the mood of the game. Newcastle defended well but attacked well too. They had more attempts on goal and more of the ball. Like the scoreline, it was a sign they had got the balance right.
In a game of more than 50 tackles – a rare treat in today’s Premier League – the Red Devils were unable to build the sort of late cavalry charge that was a hallmark of Sir Alex Ferguson’s teams. When Wilfried Zaha was unable to curl his 74th-minute shot inside the far post you would never have believed it would be their last effort of the game but Newcastle kept them comfortably at arm’s length.
Both teams had cause to go into the game feeling sorry for themselves after seeing unbeaten runs ended in midweek. At 3-0, Newcastle’s defeat in Wales was much more comprehensive, but it now looks like a blip in an otherwise impressive six-match streak.
The aggressive tone they set early in the game was vital.
Cabaye overstepped the mark after eight minutes with a suspension-earning yellow card for clattering into Adnan Januzaj. Cheick Tiote, though, measured it perfectly and his team-mates followed the lead to ensure the visitors always had control of the middle of the park.
The platform provided allowed Cabaye the freedom to get forward and he used it well, causing De Gea a momentary flutter just before the half-hour when his long-range shot looped off Tom Cleverley and onto the roof of the net. Even Tiote was able to venture forward, although his strike under pressure from Phil Jones was dragged wide.
Like Tiote, Mathieu Debuchy enjoys a tackle but attacking is a big part of the right-back’s game as well, and the fact he outperformed the Ivorian was another sign Newcastle’s was not a backs-to-the-wall performance like the second-half display the only previous time they donned their yellow shirts, at Tottenham.
Twice in first-half added time De Gea denied the right-back, first played in brilliantly by Remy, then sneaking in front of Evra to win a header. It was a disappointment when the Frenchman limped off seven minutes from time, but not one Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa allowed the hosts to exploit. On the rare, mainly first-half, occasions the full-backs allowed crosses to come in, Mike Williamson, Fabricio Coloccini and Debuchy were invariably first to them.
When Coloccini withdrew from a 42nd-minute penalty area tackle there was very slight contact but Javier Hernandez’s dive smacked of desperation.
The Red Devils had more creditable penalty claims when Anita, guarding the post, moved into an Evra header, knocking it onto the woodwork with his arm. Andre Marriner waved play on and Newcastle capitalised.
Sissoko’s powerful shot under pressure from Januzaj flew off target, but when he teed Cabaye up a minute later, the ball was passed goalwards. Whether the deflection off Nemanja Vidic made the difference between another De Gea save or not is irrelevant. You will be hard pressed to find many who can accurately describe John Tudor and Stuart Barrowclough’s goals when Newcastle last won at Manchester United.
Pardew introduced three substitutes – all given lengthy instructions – to shore up the lead, but not simply by defending.“We didn’t sit back,” he said proudly afterwards.
“When you get here the tendency is to sit deep.
“We didn’t do that all day and I was very pleased with that.”
That there was so much to be pleased about will stand Newcastle in good stead for the welter of fixtures to come.