Sharp United keeps pressure on Chelsea

October 7, 2012
By ESPN.com news services

Manchester United relied on early goals from its much-maligned defense and a stunning strike from Tom Cleverley to secure an impressive 3-0 win at Newcastle on Sunday, keeping the pressure on Chelsea at the top of the Premier League.

Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra scored headers from corners for United in the opening 15 minutes and could then celebrate a rare clean sheet this season after Cleverley's long-range curler in the 71st made the game safe at St. James' Park.

"We came here, defended brilliantly. We fully deserved the victory," said England striker Wayne Rooney, who starred in his role as an attacking midfielder for United. "The first six games of the season we haven't defended well enough -- not just the back four, the whole team, and today we were brilliant against a physical team."

United is level on points with Manchester City and four behind Chelsea after seven games, with the standings starting to take shape and the likely title contenders back among the frontrunners.

United lost 3-0 at Newcastle last season and there were fears the hosts' stellar frontline of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse would cause havoc against a defense that has been criticized heavily in recent weeks.

Yet for all United's big names in attack -- Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck also played alongside Rooney -- it was its defense that guided the team to victory and only a second shutout in the league.

Evans powered home a header from Van Persie's center in the eighth minute before Evra got in front of Ba to glance in Rooney's inswinging corner.

"Unfortunately, with all talent they have on the pitch, it was set plays they scored from," Newcastle manager Alan Pardew said. "The two goals killed us."

United goalkeeper David de Gea clawed away a stooping effort from Cisse with the ball inches from crossing the line, moments after Ba headed against the crossbar, before Cleverley sealed the three points with a curling shot from the corner of the area.

At first, it appeared Cleverley meant it as a cross -- and that's what United manager Alex Ferguson thought -- but the England midfielder insisted he had gone for a shot.

"I meant to put it in the far corner," he said, with a cheeky grin.

The pressure was on United after seeing Chelsea and City romp to easy wins on Saturday and given it had lost 3-2 to Spurs in its last league outing. A victory was also important as teams now have two weeks off for the international break.

"We were focused today," Ferguson said. "It's not easy coming to Newcastle; they're a big, aggressive team. I'm pleased with the result and pleased with the performance."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.