Vintage Manchester Utd!
Regrettably, sometimes you need to give credit where's it due even if it pains you. Manchester United deserve credit for a straightforward and convincing 3-0 victory over Newcastle tonight. And in particular, after a masterclass in playmaking, Paul Scholes proved just why even at 35 he is still one of the best midfielders at the top level of English football even if he still can't tackle for toffee.
Going into the game, Newcastle fans could be forgiven for a sense of impending doom. Despite storming back up to the top flight at the first time of asking, few fans were under any illusion that the Premiership and a trip to its most successful side would prove to be anything other than a different challenge entirely.
Starting with a predictable 4-5-1 formation, Hughton deployed Nolan in behind lone striker Andy Carroll while Danny Guthrie was missing due to a slight knock. Joey Barton and Alan Smith paired in the middle of the park. James Perch made his Newcastle debut and the remaining eleven effectively picked itself.
And with half an hour gone, some dogged defending and determination had kept the scoreline at 0-0, while at the other end, Andy Carroll was left to rue a very good chance to put his side ahead. But three minutes later, complacency from Gutierrez saw him dispossessed inside the Newcastle half and with Enrique committed outside of him and Coloccini caught napping, a clever Scholes' ball found Berbatov in the box. Despite the attentions of the advancing Enrique, Berbatov kept his nerve to drive the ball into Harper's far corner.
More complacency led to the second goal, with sloppy defensive play, Darren Fletcher capitalising on a cross from Evra who found himself with far too much time in the box. And yet his ball to Fletcher still gave opportunity for the defence to deal with it, but the Scot turned all too easily to fire past Harper for 2-0.
And from that point, it really was cruise control for Manchester United, who might have increased the lead by several more. As it was, a cameo appearance by another Old Trafford legend, saw Giggs come on and who else but Scholes teased an inviting ball into the box and the veteran Welshman steered his volley across Harper and into the bottom corner for 3-0.
Expectations may have been low in the Magpie camp before the game and the reality is that Newcastle will come up against far worse sides than Manchester United this season. But the air of arrogance that always threatened to backfire last season may need to be addressed. The three goals proof enough that complacency on the ball will not go unpunished at this level as it did in last season's campaign.
A shaky start for James Perch will not have done the young right back any favours. The over-indulgent footwork of Coloccini, Enrique and Gutierrez last season was ably defused and exploited by a much more capable side than any they faced in the Championship and that will also need to be cut out.
A midfield sorely lacking in pace and invention was completely outplayed by old man Scholes and Fletcher, Nolan trundling about to little effect and Joey 'this year will be his big season' Barton doing little to justify his inclusion in the side. Alan Smith offered little in the way of going forward but at least threw himself into the occasion, literally.
Upfront, a stand-out performance went some way to proving that despite his doubters (including yours truly), Andy Carroll may well have the presence, ability and appetite for the top flight. But with little support around him, he was left to plough a very lonely furrow with little to show for it.
The Premiership season will prove to be a marathon rather than a sprint but on this display, it's difficult to imagine anything other than a long, hard road ahead.
Newcastle - Steve Harper 6, James Perch 5, Mike Williamson 6, Fabricio Coloccini 6, Jose Enrique 6, Wayne Routledge 5, Alan Smith 6, Joey Barton 4, Jonas Gutierrez 5, Kevin Nolan 5, Andy Carroll 7.
Subs - Tim Krul, James Tavernier, Ryan Taylor, Haris Vuckic, Nile Ranger, Xisco, Shola Ameobi.
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