Newcastle United 1, Manchester United 0
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho blasted his team’s defending after their grip on a top-four place in the Premier League loosened with a shock defeat at struggling Newcastle.
Winger Matt Ritchie struck the only goal in the 65th minute, after United failed to deal with an unremarkable free-kick, and the hosts defended stoutly to record a first top-flight home win since October.
United remain second but are now 16 points behind leaders Manchester City and have only a six-point cushion to fifth-placed Chelsea, who can cut the gap when they play West Brom on Monday night.
Mourinho appeared to single out Paul Pogba and Namanja Matic for failing to clear the free-kick that led to Ritchie’s goal and withdrew the £89m France midfielder seconds later.
“It is a free-kick and not even from a dangerous position. It’s really far from the goal and the players know the positions they have to be, but we missed the challenge in the air,” he said.
“I remember clearly without TV a Newcastle player [Florian Lejeune] jumping and two of my players looking at him and staying on the floor, so the guy won the ball.”
Mourinho confirmed that the withdrawal of Pogba, who was replaced in their last away game – a 2-0 defeat at Tottenham – and subsequently dropped, had not been due to injury.
He also praised the diligence of Newcastle, after failing to break his duck on Tyneside at the seventh attempt.
“Were they lucky? Yes they were, but sometimes you attract that luck with your state of mind and after the 1-0 they fought for their lives and that is a beautiful thing in football,” he added.
Victory lifted Newcastle out of the relegation zone and up to 13th and was in no small part down to an inspired debut from goalkeeper Martin Dubravka, who joined on loan from Slavia Prague last month.
He stuck out a leg to deny Anthony Martial in the first half, and when fellow United forward Alexis Sanchez managed to round him after the break, Lejeune scurried back to block the goal-bound shot.
The hosts landed the sucker punch on 65 minutes when Lejeune leapt unchallenged to nod down Jonjo Shelvey’s deep free-kick and striker Dwight Gayle laid off for Ritchie to side-foot past David de Gea.
Gayle demonstrated his value at the other end 13 minutes from time when he twice repelled close-range efforts from Martial.
Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez admitted to fearing a late equaliser.
“We had games in past when conceded late. We got lucky with some shots, but we showed the character, the commitment and the desire,” he said.
Of Dubravka, Benitez added: “He can buy the lottery and win today. He was composed and that gave confidence to the team.”