Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has developed a knack for picking up three points when they are most needed and though Manchester United had to come from behind to secure this late 4-1 victory over Newcastle United at St James’ Park, their Premier League campaign is back on track.
Three goals in the final five minutes plus stoppage time - one fast, flowing team move finished brilliantly by Bruno Fernandes, an Aaron Wan Bissaka collector’s item and a Marcus Rashford finish - saw Solskjaer and his players respond to that 6-1 pounding at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur with an ultimately convincing win.
There was even a goal for Harry Maguire, who will hope more than any other United player that this will prove to be a turning point. Redemption for Maguire and his team-mates appeared unlikely when Luke Shaw diverted the ball into his own net after only two minutes, further still when Fernandes missed a penalty to put United ahead midway through the second half.
But for all their faults, United remain a devastating counter-attacking side when at their best and one magnificent break upfield five minutes from time - finished off by Fernandes, but made from important contributions by Juan Mata, Donny van de Beek and Rashford - laid the foundations for an ultimately comfortable victory. Wan-Bissaka and Rashford’s late additions to the scoreline showed yet more potential of United’s attack when it is on song.
The defence could still use some work. There was something grimly comical about each of Tottenham’s six goals at Old Trafford and so it was with Newcastle’s. Like Jose Mourinho’s side a fortnight ago, they glided through United’s ranks on a devastating counter-attack which began with Victor Lindelof being turned deep in enemy territory and ended with Emil Krafth’s cross deflecting wickedly off Shaw and dropping inside the near post.Bruno Fernandes celebrates finishing a fantastic goal(Getty)
On the one hand, it was a freak goal to concede. On the other, both Solskjaer’s defence and midfield had been cut to ribbons by a normally unproductive attack. And really, the deflection was neither here nor there. Without Shaw’s intervention, Krafth’s cross would have found Joelinton, who was unmarked in the six-yard box and would surely have converted a tap-in, even with his meagre scoring record.
As Newcastle contemplated moving second in the Premier League table, United faced the prospect of remaining three points from the relegation zone. Solskjaer’s side could have crumbled but, to their credit, they rallied. The interplay of United’s forward line grew more menacing with every attack. Juan Mata, in particular, was causing problems and it was his delivery from a corner which led to Maguire’s equaliser.
After a week in which so many questions were asked about the United captain’s state of mind, let alone his alarming form for both club and country, his goal should offer some much-needed respite. The powerful but well-placed downward header from a set-piece, dispatched comfortably out of Darlow’s reach, is exactly what Solskjaer has demanded from his aerially-dominant but strangely goal-shy centre-half. Maguire’s relief was palpable.
United continued to threaten up until the break, particularly from set-pieces, but required De Gea to maintain parity early in the second half. There are legitimate doubts as to whether the Spaniard is still Solskjaer’s best goalkeeper but he has lost nothing of his lightning reflexes. Wilson’s toe-poke from point-blank range appeared goal-bound until De Gea clawed it away and at an angle that denied the Newcastle striker a simple rebound.
It was a magnificent save but one matched by Darlow for Fernandes’ penalty not long after. The award was contentious and Craig Pawson needed a long look at the pitch-side monitors before deciding that Jamal Lewis had brushed Marcus Rashford’s shins inches inside the penalty area. Fernandes stepped up confidently, having only missed two of 32 penalties throughout his career, excluding shoot-outs. Make that three of 33.
Fernandes eschewed his trademark hop, skip and jump and instead elected for power, drilling low but not near enough to the bottom left-hand corner. Darlow guessed correctly, parrying into safety. Newcastle survived a brief check to see if their goalkeeper had strayed fractionally off his goal-line which would have spared Fernandes’ blushes. But five minutes from time, he spared them all by himself, finishing the move which set up United up for a much-needed victory.