REPEATS are the bane of Christmas and Newcastle United had to endure one on Boxing Day.
They are used to losing at Old Trafford – it is 1972 since they last beat Manchester United on their own patch – but yesterday’s came straight from the Red Devils’ well-worn Great Escape script.
With 20 minutes left they trailed after a dreadful performance from them – and a terrific one from the Magpies – but scraped a 4-3 victory with a winner two seconds from the end of normal time.
While they left Manchester bitterly disappointed, Newcastle must hope their display has the same uplifting effect victory over the Red Devils had on them in the opening match of 2012.
It was a proper Boxing Day game of seven goals.
Defenders played as if they had too much turkey the previous day (though it did not seem to affect Newcastle’s until the closing stages).
The Magpies’ attackers, meanwhile, look sprout-fuelled, the wind seemingly always at their backs.
In the first half Newcastle defended as heroically as in last season’s fixture and throughout they attacked with the verve of the New Year meeting, hitting the woodwork twice and the back of the net three times.
Their hosts were still finding their feet when Newcastle first went ahead, pouncing on Michael Carrick’s poor touch.
When David de Gea could only knock Demba Ba’s shot into his path, James Perch must have been as surprised as most he was on the end of it, scoring his first goal for the club.
The Red Devils have given plenty of sides a head start this season, but Newcastle would have to score twice more before eliciting a response.
When Jonny Evans tapped in from yards out after 25 minutes he was taking advantage of Tim Krul’s first and last save of the half, diverting Hernández’s shot towards him.
With Papiss Cissé part-centre-forward but mainly right side of a midfield five, Newcastle made all the first-hour running.
Evans was a weak link they attacked, Ba nutmegging the former Sunderland centre-back to find Danny Simpson, whose shot was headed clear.
Two minutes later Ba’s strike hit Rio Ferdinand and before the ball was properly cleared, Fabricio Coloccini headed it back.
De Gea just about caught it in front of the line, to chants of “dodgy keeper.”
Diligent defending by Coloccini and Mike Williamson left Krul with next to nothing to do, although the Englishman will miss the trip to Arsenal after bringing down Ryan Giggs for his fifth booking of the season.
With Vurnon Anita suffering a worrying added-time injury Antonio Valencia surprisingly escaped a second yellow card for, Saturday’s midfield will be light on experience.
That Ba went straight down the other end after Evans’ goal and nearly had one of his own showed the equaliser had changed nothing.
Soon Evans had a second, but in the wrong net. Simpson shot from Anita’s pass and his old friend knocked it past de Gea.
Linesman Jake Collin raised his flag because Cissé was offside but, after a lengthy discussion, Mike Dean bravely decided although the striker was close to Evans when he scored he had not interfered with play.
Still Newcastle showed the confidence to think positively, Davide Santon initially unleashing a shot de Gea could not hold in the wet and Sylvain Marveaux’s free-kick hitting the bar with him well beaten.
Sir Alex Ferguson sent his players out early, then took it in turns to berate the officials, seemingly livid about shirt-pulling.
He was fortunate they allowed him to watch the second half from the dugout and it helped whip the crowd up.
Of his own players, only Robin van Persie initially seemed affected, though that was partly down to the quality of Newcastle’s play.
One spell saw Ferguson’s men almost lose possession twice to in-your-face pressing before Evans surrendered it.
A minutes later, though, Perch headed van Persie’s cross to Patrice Evra, who picked a spot just beyond Krul’s reach to equalise. For the second game running Gabriel Obertan came off the bench to good effect.
Released down the left by a throw-in, he pulled the ball back along the ground for Cissé to finish with equal coolness.
Crucially, perhaps, Newcastle’s third lead last just three minutes. When Krul saved from van Persie, Carrick stabbed the ball back into the Dutchman’s path. He followed the lead of the last two goals and picked his spot.
A stretching van Persie and a stooping Hernández ought both to have scored, but de Gea breathed a massive sigh of relief when Sammy Ameobi’s shot bounced off the post and into his hands, and Obertan’s cross would have been perfect had it been a fraction closer to Cissé.
For those who knew the storyline, though, the big finish was a bit predictable.
With 89 minutes, 58 seconds on the clock, Hernández slid in to convert Carrick’s curling pass.