NEWCASTLE — Jose Mourinho is still waiting to win a Premier League game at Newcastle after Matt Ritchie’s goal sentenced Manchester United to a shock 1-0 defeat yesterday.
This was Mourinho’s seventh attempt to steer a team to victory on Tyneside and the United manager was destined for more misery at St James’ Park thanks Ritchie’s second-half goal.
Adding to Mourinho’s frustration, the goal stemmed from a free-kick awarded for a needless dive by United defender Chris Smalling.
But Mourinho could have no complaints about second placed United’s second defeat in their last three league games. This was an unimaginative performance lacking drive and desire and leaves them 16 points behind leaders Manchester City. United couldn’t match the aggression of a Newcastle team fighting for survival and there were wild celebrations at full-time as the hosts moved out of the relegation zone.
Mourinho must have feared the worst early on.
United arrived with seven clean sheets in their last eight games, but proved to be surprisingly vulnerable.
After only five minutes, David De Gea made an excellent save from Jonjo Shelvey after Dwight Gayle’s free-kick rebounded to the midfielder off the United wall.
Ayoze Perez drove a shot narrowly wide from the edge of the area and a superb clearance from Smalling snuffed out another Newcastle threat as United struggled to retain possession.
It all added up to a hugely encouraging start for Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez, who gave a debut to Slovak goalkeeper Martin Dubravka following his arrival on loan last month.
In his first half-hour of Premier League football, Dubravka was only required to make two routine clearances from the edge of his area.
At the other end, De Gea had made another save from Kenedy by the time the visitors finally tested Dubravka as he turned away a 32nd minute shot from Jesse Lingard.
Four minutes later Dubravka showed why Benitez was so eager to sign him.
Anthony Martial appeared certain to score when Nemanja Matic’s measured pass sent him clear, but the keeper narrowed the angle and kicked away the shot.
United might have gone in behind if referee Craig Pawson had not rejected justifiable penalty claims when Gayle went down under a clumsy challenge from Smalling in the 40th minute.
Benitez’s furious reaction on the touchline mixed anger with disbelief.
The Spaniard was more impressed by Pawson’s judgment eight minutes into the second-half when the official decided — correctly — that Romelu Lukaku had pushed a defender as he rose to head past Dubravka.
Lukaku, like the majority of his teammates, had been anonymous.
One exception was Alexis Sanchez and he almost put them ahead in the 57th minute when he rounded Dubravka before his goal-bound shot was blocked by Florian Lejeune.
Mourinho was already preparing to send on substitutes Michael Carrick and Juan Mata in place of the ineffectual Paul Pogba and Lingard when his side went behind from a free-kick awarded for Smalling’s dive. The defender was cautioned and further punishment was to follow when Shelvey delivered the free-kick.
Lejeune headed it towards goal, Gayle touched it back into the path of Ritchie and he stroked his shot inside the post from 10 yards. It proved to be enough to earn Newcastle three invaluable points, but only after two goalline clearances from Gayle denied Martial in the closing moments.