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Season 2003-04
 Manchester United (a) Premiership
Date: Sunday 11th January 2004 4.05pm

  Old Trafford

Winter sunshine, mild conditions, pitch watered at half time.

Admission: 31  Programme: 3

Manchester United

 0 - 0 Newcastle United


Half time:  Manchester United 0 Newcastle United 0

Full time:   Manchester United 0 Newcastle United 0


We said

Alan Shearer:

"We should have had a penalty and if I was playing in red I would have had a penalty.

"But it's too much to ask to give Alan Shearer a penalty at the Stretford End. I asked him 'why didn't you book me for diving if you didn't think it was a penalty?' and he said 'I didn't think you dived'. Work that one out."

Bobby Robson:

He (Durkin) is being honest and I applaud him for that. 

"It has gone against us, but you can't get everything. It was a big blow for us and looked as if Howard did catch Alan. It looked like a penalty.

You have got to be a bit closer to give a better opinion (of the Man U "goal".) Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don't. It looked like he (O'Brien) was being man-handled a bit. Maybe it's a 1-1 situation.

"We defended well. The whole back four did superbly. It has been a great week for us, with two victories and a draw, and no goals against."

They said

Paul Durkin:

"It happened so quickly. I was expecting the ball to be played upfield and I was caught quite a distance from play and I was just totally uncertain. 

"Obviously I've seen it on the replays and there is contact there. From where I am, unless I'm 100 per cent certain that there's been contact then I can't give the penalty and that was the case.

I am disappointed from a personal point of view because we like to get the big ones right. But people need to understand it happens so quick and I've got a split second to make a decision."

Alex Ferguson:

"I listened to Paul Durkin and I didn't agree. I thought it was a perfectly good goal, just as I thought it was a penalty kick.


Unbeaten start to 2004 now three games, with three clean sheets.

Now six games since we incurred either a red or yellow card.

Only two defeats in last fifteen Premiership games, but six draws. 

Last 0-0 between these sides was at Old Trafford in November 1998. Since then in 11 Premiership games there have been 46 goals. 


Oh Manchester, so much to answer for, as Morrissey once asserted.

But for once we were left cursing officialdom rather than the men in red, as we left Old Trafford with what was a slightly unexpected but thoroughly-deserved point.

That other local grouch, Mark E Smith might well have labelled referee Durkin's actions as a modern day kicker conspiracy, with the suspicion being that his decision not to penalise goalkeeper Howard for kicking out at Shearer in the area was motivated by fear.

How much easier just to avoid making a decision in front of all of those people and just play on. That neatly avoids sarcastic comments from that grumpy old jock and an onfield deputation led by that well known firm of dressing room lawyers, Neville, Neville & Keane, who would no doubt have urged their client to ignore any attempts at punishing him by threatening to go on strike.

Instead, we moan, Shearer fumes and has his own snipe at the referee via his other employers and a contrite Durkin stands with his hands behind his back, head slightly bowed and cheeky grin never far from his lips.

Sky later ran the footage of the offence with his comments but failed to challenge Durkin's assertion that he was too far away from the incident to see what happened. Well either that's him clearly in shot or that manc scally who keeps cropping up pretending to be other people has been at it again.

And while we're on the subject, have the FA now abandoned the use of linesmen altogether? Precisely where the flag waver tasked with patrolling this half of the pitch was at this juncture remains a mystery. Granted he was on the "wrong" side, but would that have prevented him placing his flag across his chest had a red-shirted player tumbled? I  think not.

Having sympathised with our number nine though, in a shock development we must also agree with what that grumpy old jock who divides his time between getting embroiled in equine disputes and managing these lot said. 

For once old Fergie seemed to have lapsed from his famous "mind games" to assert that he believed it was a penalty and that his side's second half "goal" was incorrectly ruled out as a consequence. (As a quick aside, do you think that Fergie sits in front of the telly and absolutely wets himself every time the present Manchester City boss shows his downcast gob? we do!)

Having now had the benefit of replays, it has to be said that for their "goal" there seems to be a certain amount of score-settling going on by the referee, with no great contact on O'Brien and apparently no-post goal appeal by the Newcastle defender. Certainly there have been other instances this season of similar goals standing in this league.

While the lack of an appeal may be explained by Durkin's early whistle, it's still a fair bet we'd have been belly-aching long into the night had it been a Newcastle boot poking the ball past Tim Howard.....

Enough of the controversies though and on to the events that did pass the referee's legality test - and to be fair there aren't many, but after the carnage of some previous games against these lot we ain't complaining.

A second-half header off the bar by Jenas was the closest we came, while the home side also failed to seriously test the 'keeper blocking their path, allowing our defence a sporting chance of extending their clean sheet record to three and cardless streak to six in all competitions.

And annoying though the penalty incident was, the most frustrating element of the afternoon was that we appeared to have caught Manchester United on an off day, but just pulled up short of being able to inflict real damage on them and consign that 32 year record to the dustbin in quick succession to the Saints one.

The home side looked rather less-than organised from the start, apparently opting to play without a right sided midfielder, or alternatively rotating the front six into that role throughout the game.

That looked to have given them an extra man in the middle, but Scholes seemed reticent about stepping up into the danger zone when Van Nistelrooy worked down the flanks, meaning we seldom looked like being undressed in the manner of last season when we were unable stop surges to the byline and pull back passes leading to virtual tap-ins for anyone in a red shirt who cared to meander into the Newcastle box.

Having got to half time in a relatively comfortable manner, no doubt there were at least one or two in the away dressing room as well as the visitor's seats who just had that sneaking feeling we could maybe, somehow snatch a goal and just hang on.

However, while Shearer continued to toil away up front to get his body or feet within touching distance of anything pumped forward, he didn't really get a massive amount of support from his colleagues.

Once or twice we seemed on the brink of a charge upfield as a misplaced pass in our half from the home side set us free momentarily. However the best of these moments saw Dyer dart forward and home in on goal on a more central trajectory than when he memorably finished at St.Mary's.

Unfortunately he had to find a way past the last defender and when confronted by Ferdinand, seemed almost psyched out by the presence of his big mate, stumbling fatally as Rio made a home crowd-pleasing intervention.

It was also to be hoped that we'd be treated to some French magic today, but aside from a couple of long-range efforts in the first half, Robert grew increasingly quiet as darkness fell and Bernard showed as much threat in attack as his countryman in the final quarter of the game.

By then the reds had used all of their subs and mutated into another unrecognisable formation featuring ex-mackem Bellion, who didn't scare us at his previous club and seemed little improved here. 

And speaking of ineffective rubbish that Fergie has signed, may we offer the names of Forlan and Kleberson, the latter of whom we seem to have done well to avoid on this evidence.

The reluctance of Robert to get at Neville and try to get past him and send over a cross or two was first of all irritating then, after the manky manc had been booked, downright annoying. 

A pity, because after his recent renaissance, this game would seem to have been tailor-made for him to strut his stuff. Today we got the annoying player though, not the inspirational one.

Credit though to our defence for a third clean sheet and along with the rest of the side once again avoiding yellow and red cards. Woodgate looked back to his best and his very presence seems now to reassure those around him. O'Brien got stuck in with that beak sorry, nose of his in the thick of the action and only ever looked in bother when the bulkier van Nistelrooy leant into him.

Precisely where this leaves Bramble though is open to question - whether the news about the dropping of his court case played any part in the decision to leave him out of this game is uncertain, but if we assume Bobby was worried about him getting slaughtered (or roasted) like he did at SJP last season then when does he come back in? Against Valerenga? or Fulham, if Saha has left?

A valuable point then and a rare clean sheet not only here but anywhere against this lot. No new injuries, some vital but winnable cup and league games in the offing and a renewal of confidence for fans, players and management alike, hopefully.

It's easy of course to read too much into one result, as we were accused of by the manager last season after the Wolves Cup exit. Certainly the final minutes of this game weren't quite as full-blooded as they could have been, had the immediate future of either team depended on getting a winner. 

And while we looked moderately happy with a point and never threw caution to the wind except when Woodgate jogged up for a corner and stayed in the opposition half, so the home side seemed content in the closing stages to take the point that put their noses back ahead of Arsenal at the top of the pile - much to the audible disappointment of many of the occupants of their main stand. 

Given that we have nowt in the fighting fund, it's old-fashioned values like loyalty, teamwork, hard work and diligence that we have to maximise amongst our current crop - this ninety minute effort from all concerned was heartening precisely for those reasons. 

Quite simply we were up for this, did nothing stupid, didn't lose our discipline and looked as if we wanted "it" more than the league leaders. All in all a canny day's work. 

Glass half full, Bobby.



Page last updated 14 July, 2016