An off-colour Manchester United missed the chance to open up a nine-point gap at the top of the Premier League as they were held to a draw by Newcastle.

The visitors were guilty of poor passing throughout, though Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs missed good chances.

And striker Javier Hernandez felt he was fouled in the box by Danny Simpson late on, only to be booked for a dive.

Newcastle deserved a point, though, and might have had a penalty of their own when Anderson felled Peter Lovenkrands.

Both decisions could have gone either way, with contact made on each occasion, but referee Lee Probert waved the appeals away to ensure an absorbing clash ended goalless at St James’ Park.

It is a result which could prove valuable for Newcastle, taking them as it does to the 40-point mark teams often cite as necessary to guarantee safety from relegation.

But for Red Devils boss Sir Alex Ferguson and his men it will be considered a case of two points dropped and means second-place Arsenal and third-place Chelsea could pull to within four and six points respectively of his side should they win their games in hand.

It remains a tall order for the chasing two, but as both face Man Utd in the run-in, neither will count themselves out of the title race just yet.

Arsenal’s dramatic draw with Liverpool on Sunday had appeared to leave the door wide open for Man Utd to open a hugely significant gap at the top of the table with a win at St James’ Park – and with the Magpies pretty stable in mid-table with six matches to go in the campaign, many might have expected a cakewalk on Tyneside.

Far from it. The visitors forged the two clearest chances of the first half, but the opening 45 minutes were far more memorable for an effervescent home display that defied those expecting the Magpies to roll over on their own patch.

Buoyed by a typically raucous home crowd and driven on the pitch by the likes of Joey Barton, Jonas Gutierrez and Cheik Tiote, Newcastle recovered from a glorious early Man Utd chance to cause the visitors all sorts of problems.

Magpies keeper Tim Krul should take no little credit for that for his fabulous point-blank save from Javier Hernandez, the Mexican denied from Rooney’s centre all of four yards out, but the hosts were equally grateful for an unusually error-strewn display from the Premier League leaders.

Giggs was particularly guilty of sloppy passing – and the chances flowed for Newcastle as a result.

Gutierrez almost rounded off a fine run in from the left with a 20-yard finish, his effort deflected wide, while Tiote, too, was denied from range, this time low down by Red Devils keeper Edwin van der Sar.

Barton and Shola Ameobi could also have done better when well placed inside the area, while Lovenkrands contrived to nod a free header wide 16 yards out with no Man Utd player close to him.

In between that, though, the men in red created the night’s second glorious chance of the night, only for Rooney to blaze over from inside the area after being laid in on goal by Hernandez’s neat flick.

And for all the home side’s good play, that and Hernandez’s early chance underlined a threat from Ferguson’s men that always seemed to be bubbling under the surface of an absorbing encounter.

But the hosts plugged away in the second half and a less sympathetic referee might have awarded a penalty against Anderson when the Brazilian appeared to catch Lovenkrands in the Man Utd box on the hour mark.

But, as the visitors gradually eradicated their passing errors and began dominating possession, a clear-cut opening for Ferguson’s team seemed only moments away – and so it proved when Patrice Evra burst into the area and cut back for Giggs unmarked 12 yards out, only for the Welshman to skew wide with the goal at his mercy.

From then on in, the match consisted mainly of Man Utd’s attack against Newcastle’s defence – Stephen Ireland’s volley from Ameobi’s knock-down aside, the midfielder’s 20-yard effort dipping narrowly wide.

But, in truth, the Red Devils rarely looked likely to break the deadlock and it summed up their night when Hernandez was booked in stoppage time for a dive as he rolled over Simpson’s lunge in the box.

It meant the visitors were forced to settle for a point that will only reinvigorate Arsenal’s and, possibly, Chelsea’s hopes of producing a late fightback in the race for the domestic title.

Source: BBC


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