Paul Dummett had the final say in a scintillating game that could scarcely have been anticipated given the attacking troubles experienced by both teams recently and which saw Wayne Rooney back to his imperious best with two goals and an assist.
Rooney appeared to have scored a dramatic winning goal for Louis van Gaal’s side, to add to an earlier penalty kick, with a magnificent 79th minute strike from the edge of the area after Memphis Depay’s exhilarating run and shot ended with the ball ricocheting off Dummett into the path of the forward.
But the Newcastle full-back had the final say after Darryl Janmaat’s cross into the United area was headed out by Chris Smalling, allowing Dummett to send an unstoppable drive past David de Gea via a deflection.
Earlier a Rooney penalty and Jesse Lingard goal had put United firmly in control only for Georginio Wijnaldum, with Newcastle’s first goal in 453 minutes, and Aleksandar Mitrovic with a 65th minute penalty to level the scores.
The decision that gifted United their opening goal was controversial but this was a vastly improved performance by Louis van Gaal’s team, following the weekend’s tortuous FA Cup victory over League One Sheffield United.
Van Gaal though was left bitterly disappointed afterwards.
“It feels like a defeat. We have given it away — I have told that to my players. When the referee gives a penalty for nothing — it is a duel I think and you cannot decide who is worse but we gave it away.
“We could have scored six goals easily here and we did not. If we had, it would have been three successive wins going into Liverpool.”
Rooney said: “We’re always trying to play attacking football.
“The problem wasn’t that today, it was the other end.”
Mike Dean judged Marouane Fellaini heading the ball against the arm of Chancel Mbemba constituted deliberate handball, the ref pointing to the spot for the United captain to calmly convert the spot kick.
The decision may have been lucky but it was no more than United deserved for their early endeavours.
The night was charged with emotion as the packed stadium paid tribute to former keeper Pavel Srnicek, who died before Christmas, and welcomed new signing Jonjo Shelvey from Swansea.
But the eighth minute penalty swung momentum dramatically in the direction of the visitors and, before the interval, Lingard had doubled that lead.
It was a devastating 39th minute counter-attack that led to it as Ander Herrera sprung the attack from just inside his half with a pass to Rooney.
The striker sprinted into the Newcastle area and, with defenders converging, played a sublime reverse pass to the overlapping Lingard whose finish was equally impressive through Rob Elliott’s legs.
Newcastle could feel aggrieved to be trailing by a two-goal margin.
It was a deficit that would last only three minutes before van Gaal’s former Dutch World Cup player Wijnaldum halved it.
The goal was just as impressive as United’s second, as Fabricio Coloccini’s chip into the area was headed down by Mitrovic for Wijnaldum to volley past David de Gea from a dozen yards.
Three goals in one half is heady territory for a United game, especially given their wretched first half displays by the Reds at home this season, and, in truth, both teams could and probably should have added more.
Steve McClaren’s team carried the confidence of that first goal in five games into the second half and might have taken the lead after six minutes following another clever contribution from Coloccini who found Moussa Sissoko with a pass that allowed him to dart into the area, beat Ashley Young and shoot goalwards, only for de Gea to make another decent near-post save.
Four minutes later, however, Lingard should have wrapped up the three points after the increasingly impressive Anthony Martial terrorised the Newcastle defence before squaring to Herrera who selflessly moved the ball on to the unmarked Lingard.
With the goal at his mercy, the United man curled a shot well over the Newcastle goal much to Van Gaal’s undisguised disgust.
The United manager would have been even angrier if Jack Colback had succeeded in an attempt to win a penalty, collapsing under slight contact from Fellaini, soon after but Newcastle were soon level after Mitrovic converted from the spot after Chris Smalling wrestled him to the ground, in almost farcical fashion, at a corner.
Rooney looked to have got the winner with a brilliant effort before Dummett’s late intervention.
“People said we lack character but we kept fighting until the end and we got a goal that feels like a winner,” said McClaren.
“It must have been a great game for the neutral — it was a heart attack for the coaches.”
NEWCASTLE (4-2-3-1): Elliot; Janmaat, Mbemba, Coloccini, Dummett; Tiote (Toney 85), Colback (Gouffran 81); Sissoko, Wijnaldum, Perez (de Jong 90); Mitrovic.
Subs not used: Lascelles, Darlow, Marveaux, Sterry.
MAN UTD (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Young, Smalling, Blind, Darmian; Fellaini, Schneiderlin; Martial, Herrera (Mata 75), Lingard (Memphis 63); Rooney.
Subs not used: Romero, McNair, Borthwick-Jackson, Pereira, Weir.
Referee: Mike Dean
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