Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho blasted his team’s defense 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 host 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 up to 13th position 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.”
Manchester United's Alexis Sanchez breaks shirt sales records following January transfer from Arsenal
Following Sanchez’s arrival at Old Trafford from Arsenal last month as part of a swap deal for Henrikh Mkhitaryan, United sold over three times as many shirts featuring his name as any previous January transfer.
Woodward also told investors in a conference call that signing the Chilean forward who United made the Premier League’s highest-paid player ever also drove record engagement figures for the club on social media platforms.
Sanchez’s united contract, reportedly worth £450,000 per week, puts more strain on a wage bill which already made up half of club costs and rose 9.4 per cent to £69.9m in the three months from 31st December.
"Our solid business model has allowed us to invest in the future of the club with the extension of Jose Mourinho's contract as manager and the acquisition of Alexis Sanchez,” said Woodward.
“Swapping (Henrikh) Mkhitaryan for Sanchez further strengthened Jose’s attacking options.
“This trade generated some interesting social media stats. It was the biggest Manchester United post on Instagram with 2m likes and comments; the most shared United Facebook post ever and the most retweeted post ever, and #Alexis7 was the No1 trending topic on twitter worldwide.
To put all that into context, the announcement posts generated 75 per cent more interactions than the announcement of the signing of the world’s most expensive player last summer, when Neymar moved from Barcelona to PSG.
“Alexis Sanchez has set a new January signing record in terms of shirt sales, three times our previous record.”
United’s operating profit of £28.7m in the second quarter represented a 23 per cent drop on the same period last year, a fall the club attributed to US president Donald Trump’s corporate tax cut from 35 to 21 per cent.
The New York-listed club said this would help them long term but required an accounting write-off of £48.8m.
Wages rose in the period due to the club’s return to the Champions League, which triggered extra payments in players’ contracts.