Mike Ashley facing decision time on Steve Bruce ahead of Newcastle United's relegation run-in
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Manchester United won 3-1 at Old Trafford tonight, but the scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story.
Steve Bruce’s relegation-threatened played well for almost an hour, but were undone by defensive errors, and the club remains just three points above the relegation zone.
And the team, which went nine Premier League games without a win, needs points more than plaudits.
Worryingly, Newcastle, already without striker Callum Wilson, lost Joelinton to injury.
"We were disrupted when we lost Joelinton, it's difficult to replace him, but I was pleased with an hour,” said Bruce. “When you come here, you've got to be good for 90 minutes.”
The fixture came two days after Yohan Cabaye – who had ended a 41-year wait for a league win at Old Trafford in 2013 with a memorable winner – announced his retirement from football.
Bruce – who recalled Joelinton to his starting XI – had needed one of his players to step up, and Allan Saint-Maximin, now fully fit after recovering from Covid-19, did just that.
Sadly, his first-half strike counted for nothing at the final whistle.
Newcastle started well. They pressed high up the pitch, and played with a welcome intensity. Joelinton had a deflected shot tipped over by David de Gea, and the striker intercepted a poor pass from the midfielder in the 11th minute after opted to square the ball for Jonjo Shelvey rather than shoot. Shelvey’s shot well over the bar.
Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s side soon seized the initiative, and they got their breakthrough thanks to the brilliance of Marcus Rashford, who got past Emil Krafth, cut inside and beat Karl Darlow at his near post with a right-footed shot.
Newcastle weren’t beaten. Saint-Maximin forced a save with a shot from outside the box, and Harry Maguire could only clear the resulting corner as far as the winger, who clipped the ball past de Gea.
The visitors started the second half positively, and Saint-Maximin forced another save from de Gea.
Newcastle, however, were undone by another defensive error after Joelinton was forced off the field. A ball across the box from Nemanja Matic was touched on by Bruno Fernandez to an unmarked Daniel James at the far post, and he beat Darlow.
And Bruno Fernandes made certain of the points with a 75th-minute penalty after Joe Willock brought down Rashford in the box.
Asked about the club’s predicament, Bruce said: “I’m sure there’s a few looking over their shoulder, and, of course, we’re one of them.
“But I’m still quietly confident that we’ll be fine if we keep performing like we did in the first hour.”
Does owner Mike Ashley – who hopes to sell the club for £300million – share Bruce’s confidence?
There are now just 13 games left – Wolverhampton Wanderers are next up at St James’s Park on Saturday – and Ashley will have a decision to make very soon.