Man Utd suddenly in uncertain terrain

Posted by Musa Okwonga

Newcastle beat Manchester United 1-0 to end a 41-year wait for an Old Trafford triumph and condemned the Red Devils to back-to-back home Premier League defeats for the first time since 2002.

The scorer of the winning goal was Yohan Cabaye, the French midfielder whose guile was conspicuously absent in his opposite man. United midfielder Tom Cleverley had another afternoon where he was unable to control the tempo in the middle of the pitch; the absence of the injured Michael Carrick is being keenly felt at Old Trafford.

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With Wayne Rooney suspended after picking up his fifth booking of the season against Everton last week, Javier Hernandez started up front alongside Robin van Persie, and with the Dutchman still apparently short of full speed that left a great gap between attack and midfield.

This gap was something like a Bermuda Triangle for Manchester United's midfielders: every time they entered it, some sort of invisible force seemed to scramble the radar of their passing, sending it harmlessly square or aimlessly forward.

This invisible force was also working its malign magic on Manchester United's defenders. It seemed to have convinced them that Hernandez was a foot taller than he actually was, and so Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans sent several long balls soaring over the Mexican's head either towards the grateful arms of Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul or the happily jiggling curls of centre-back Fabricio Coloccini.

Or perhaps there was no such force at play at all. Perhaps, instead, this was the logical result from a team who are horribly unsure of themselves at times, and who have had a pronounced vulnerability at home. The fear factor of Old Trafford is long gone.

Robin van Persie heads home for Manchester United only to see his effort ruled out for offside.GettyImagesRobin van Persie heads home for Manchester United only to see his effort ruled out for offside.

When David Moyes took this job, he did not anticipate that by December the away fans would be singing "you're getting sacked in the morning". Yet that is what happened here. Almost as galling for Manchester United's fans would have been the Toon Army chanting "Geordie Boys, we're having a laugh" ten minutes from the end, as their team comfortably kept possession in the attacking third.

Only once, halfway through the first half, did Manchester United produce a passage of compelling play, when Cleverley, Adnan Januzaj and Nani combined with a rapid exchange of passes. Apart from that, the team was curiously stale in both thought and movement. By the end, they looked as forlorn as the pile of Marouane Fellaini wigs outside Old Trafford.

An unpleasant sight for Manchester United's players, too, would have been the sight of several emptying seats at Old Trafford five minutes from the end of normal time. By the final whistle, certain small sections of the stand had as many gaps as a set of red net curtains.

There were some positive signs on the pitch, even if they involved the most tenacious of clutching at straws. Wilfried Zaha's appearance on the bench confirmed that he is still alive and available for selection, the forward -- Manchester United's outstanding winger in the pre-season -- having to wait until December for his first Premier League action.

This is a moment of rare anxiety for Manchester United, as evidenced by Moyes' three rapid substitutions in the game's closing stages. The mood on Saturday was distracted, confused and frustrated, a feeling presumably shared by crowd, players and manager; and, after a recent 12-game unbeaten run, the club is suddenly in uncertain terrain.


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