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United re-established a seven point lead at the head of the Premier League table, but were pushed all the way by a pepped-up Newcastle United side at St James' Park.
Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov struck goals in either half to seal the points, but not before Peter Lovenkrands had fired the hosts into an unlikely early lead. With Chelsea and Liverpool both winning on Tuesday, this was a potentially massive win in United's bid for a third successive Premier League title.
The Magpies were at United from the very first whistle and, with Jonas Gutierrez and Obafemi Martins on song, set out with an open gameplan devised to catch the visitors cold, which they duly did.
For all the praise lavished upon Edwin van der Sar for his long run without conceding a goal – which stretched back to November – the Dutchman was guilty of a handling error as the hosts took an unexpected lead on nine minutes.
Gutierrez cut in from the left wing and aimed a speculative shot towards the far corner. The Argentine’s effort dipped in front of van der Sar, who could only palm it out to Lovenkrands for a simple finish.
United’s response was unflustered, with passes fizzing around the snow-kissed St James’ Park turf with accuracy and incision. Rooney tested Steve Harper with a left-footed curler, but a lightning-quick break from the hosts ended with Martins drilling a shot just past van der Sar’s upright.
The Nigerian scored against United on the opening day of the season, and he was proving a real thorn in the Reds’ side. Nemanja Vidic picked up the game’s first yellow card for halting Martins’ surge into the area after 19 minutes.