(Reuters) - Matt Ritchie lifted the gloom on Tyneside with the winner in Newcastle United’s crucial 1-0 victory over Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday — their first three-point haul at home since October.
Newcastle had fallen into the bottom three before kickoff after Huddersfield Town’s earlier win, but they responded with a vibrant display capped by Ritchie’s 65th minute effort.
Ritchie was released into space by Dwight Gayle’s flick and he buried a low shot past David De Gea.
Bizarrely the free kick which led to the goal was awarded when United defender Chris Smalling was booked for a blatant dive in the centre of the field.
Smalling was also lucky to get away with a first-half trip on Gayle inside the penalty area.
United were guilty of wasteful finishing with Anthony Martial and Alexis Sanchez the chief culprits and were denied a stoppage-time equaliser when the outstanding debutant keeper Martin Dubravka prevented an own goal from close range.
Newcastle’s first win over United for five years lifted them from 18th to 13th while Jose Mourinho’s second-placed United are now a remote 16 points behind local rivals Manchester City and looking over their shoulders at the teams behind them.
Such is the gap at the top that City could conceivably clinch the title against United in April.
“They fought like animals,” Mourinho, who has now failed to win in seven fixtures at St James’ Park, said of Newcastle’s well-earned victory. “I hope they take that as a compliment.
“The gods of football were on their side. It wasn’t going to happen for us today.”
Jonjo Shelvey tested De Gea with a ferocious drive early on but the visitors dominated possession and should have gone ahead when Nemanja Matic sent Martial away with a slide rule pass but the Frenchman was denied by Dubravka.
Sanchez was lively for the visitors and caused panic in the Newcastle box with a mazy dribble. Moments later he seemed poised to score when he rounded Dubravka but instead of rolling the ball into an empty net he hesitated and his shot was blocked by the covering Florian Lejeune.
United’s profligacy was punished when Ritchie pounced for his first goal of the season, sparking delirium in the stands.
There were anxious moments at the end as the visitors piled forward and Dubravka made a sensational reaction stop to protect his side’s lead, moments before the final whistle sounded.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis