JUST over a year ago, Newcastle United’s fans didn’t want to leave Old Trafford.
Long after the final whistle, they were still signing match-winner Yohan Cabaye’s name.
Yesterday, unfortunately, they couldn’t wait to get back home for some cold Christmas turkey.
But that was easier said than done thanks to a gridlocked M60 and the atrocious conditions that awaited them on a snow-covered M62.
Some supporters were left stranded at a service station for hours, their coach unable to continue.
Who’d be a Newcastle fan?
It had been a long journey across the Pennines for the club’s 3,000-strong support.
They’d had to contend with the closure of the A1’s southbound carriageway after a fatal accident on the morning of the game and heavy congestion around the Trafford Centre on their way to the stadium.
Then there were the inevitable queues outside Old Trafford’s huge club shop blocking the pavement.
But the chaos on the roads was followed by chaos on the pitch at the stadium, where Manchester United won 3-1 thanks to two goals from Wayne Rooney and another from Robin van Persie.
Papiss Demba Cisse scored a late consolation goal from the penalty spot.
But in truth, it was little consolation for those supporters, despite the loud cheers that greeted it.
It wasn’t a particularly hard afternoon’s work for Louis van Gaal’s side, who talked about his side’s “domination” of the game in his post-match Press conference.
Newcastle had their moments – and they should have had a penalty with the score still goalless – but the performance highlighted problems at both ends of the pitch.
Defensively, they were found wanting, and the youth and inexperience of the front two – Ayoze Perez and Adam Armstrong – underlined the need for the club to sign an experienced striker next month.
That said, Perez was the club’s best player – and Armstrong did little wrong.
And the result, the club’s third successive Premier League defeat, left the team 10th in the table ahead of back-to-back home games against Everton and Burnley.
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew, again under pressure after the club’s derby defeat to Sunderland, tried to match Louis van Gaal’s 5-3-2 system by fielding three centre-halves – Steven Taylor, Fabricio Coloccini and Paul Dummett – but the team didn’t look comfortable under pressure.
Armstrong, 17, was also handed his full Premier League debut, while there was a rare start for Vurnon Anita with Cheik Tiote suspended.
Certainly, Pardew could have done with the Tiote of old to give his defence some welcome protection.
Most of Newcastle’s fans will have travelled to Old Trafford more in hope than expectation, but those tucked into one corner of the sold-out stadium, and those back on Tyneside watching on TV, saw their team make a promising start.
Perez made a darting run towards the home box, but opted to shoot rather than pass to Yoan Gouffran and Manchester United were able to clear the danger.
Gouffran’s inclusion in the starting XI was again the source of much pre-match debate, but few will have anticipated him being handed the role of wing-back.
At the other end of the pitch, Radamel Falcao should have done better with a cross from Ashley Young, whose first-half deliveries were creating problems for Newcastle’s defence.
Pardew’s side, however, were causing problems of their own, and they should have had a penalty in the 14th minute when Juan Mata inadvertently clipped the heels of Gouffran and brought him down in the box.
Chester-based referee Michael Jones inexplicably waved play on.
Still, Newcastle kept on going, and Daryl Janmaat forced a fine save from David de Gea in the 20th minute with a fiercely-driven shot from outside the box.
Man United’s breakthrough came in the 23rd minute. Rooney started the move by passing to Mata, who found Falcao at the far post.
Falcao slid to meet the ball and crossed for Rooney, who beat goalkeeper Jak Alnwick with a simple tap-in.
It was harsh on Newcastle, who had been bright in possession.
That said, the re-jigged defence had looked vulnerable to balls into the box, and Mata’s ball had opened them up far too easily.
And Newcastle’s frailties were again evident 13 minutes later when Rooney doubled Man United’s advantage.
This time, the move was set in motion by a poor pass from Gouffran to Perez, which was intercepted by Falcao.
Seconds later, the ball was in the back of the net, with Mata finding Rooney in space. Far too easy.
Pardew opted not to change his team at the break, and Newcastle were soon 3-0 down.
Rooney picked out Robin van Persie, who carefully guided a header past Alnwick.
Again, Newcastle had been carved open, yet in the minutes after the goal, it was the travelling fans who sung the loudest.
Armstrong wasn’t far away with a snapshot, but there was little to cheer in the second half as the promised rain started to come down.
De Gea was equal to a near-post shot from Perez, but he couldn’t stop a late penalty from substitute Cisse, who took the ball after Phil Jones tripped Jack Colback in the box.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Alnwick 5; Janmaat 6, Coloccini 5, S Taylor 6, Dummett 6 (Cabella, 63, 5); Colback 6, Anita 5; Sissoko 6, PEREZ 7 (Vuckic, 82), Gouffran 4; Armstrong 6 (Cisse, 63, 5). Subs not used: Woodman, Williamson, Satka, Riviere.
MANCHESTER UNTIED: De Gea, Jones, McNair, Evans, Valencia, Carrick (Fletcher, 62), Rooney, Mata, Young, van Persie, Falcao (Wilson, 65). Subs not used: Lindegaard, Rafael, Smalling, Blackett, A Pereira.
Man of the match: Ayoze Perez. Again a threat for Newcastle.
Highlight: The inclusion of Adam Armstrong in the starting XI. He’ll learn from this game.
Lowlight: The sloppy defending that cost Newcastle in the first half.
Goals: Rooney 23, 36, van Persie 53, Cisse 86 (pen).
Bookings: S Taylor 61 van Persie 66, Gouffran 89
Refereee: Michael Jones