Final Score: Manchester United 4, Newcastle United 3

ISN'T this only supposed to happen at Anfield?

The scoreline that has become synonymous with so many of Newcastle United's most heroic Premier League failures returned to haunt them again as Manchester United edged a remarkable seven-goal thriller that will be remembered for countless Christmases to come.

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Ahead on three different occasions, the Magpies eventually finished pointless as Javier Hernandez added yet another dramatic winner to Manchester United's seemingly inexhaustible catalogue of last-gasp heroics.

There were two seconds of normal time remaining when Hernandez converted Michael Carrick's cross, so perhaps the league leaders' standards are slipping after all. They could at least have waited until stoppage time for added dramatic effect.

Somewhat predictably, the remainder of the game still proved costly from a Newcastle perspective anyway, with Vurnon Anita sustaining a serious ankle injury that led to him leaving the field on a stretcher. It never rains, it pours, and with Cheik Tiote leaving for the Africa Cup of Nations at the start of next month, Alan Pardew can ill afford another lengthy injury lay-off.

The Magpies manager was downbeat enough by the time Anita crumpled under a foul from Antonio Valencia, yet for large periods of a thoroughly entertaining game, his players had produced comfortably their best football of the season. Composed in possession, tigerish in the tackle and clinical when a chance presented itself, they scored three goals at Old Trafford for only the second time in the last 52 years and also hit the woodwork twice for good measure.

James Perch's opening goal in a Newcastle shirt was cancelled out by Jonny Evans, Evans' own goal was cancelled out by Patrice Evra, Papiss Cisse's clinical strike was cancelled out by Robin van Persie. Then, with a numbing predictability, Hernandez struck.

There were so many positives from a Magpies perspective, with Anita, Perch and Marveaux all cementing their status as first-team performers rather than fringe players, Demba Ba and Cisse causing a stream of problems up front and both Danny Simpson and Davide Santon offering a constant threat from the full-back berths.

But the final result means Newcastle have now lost seven of their last nine Premier League matches and will head to Arsenal on Saturday just five points clear of the drop zone. They will also be without Mike Williamson, who picked up his fifth booking of the season yesterday.

Manchester United, on the other hand, find themselves seven points clear of Manchester City, yet Sir Alex Ferguson's side could hardly have been less convincing for most of yesterday's game if they had tried.

At kick-off, they had conceded first in four Premier League matches at Old Trafford this season. Just four minutes in, and that tally had increased to five.

The Northern Echo: GOING DOWN: Newcastle United’s Danny Simpson executes a
sliding challenge on Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs

Michael Carrick, once of Wallsend Boys Club, conceded possession to Ba at the heart of midfield, and after advancing unchecked for around 20 yards, the Newcastle striker opted to test David De Gea with a long-range shot.

De Gea has struggled from the moment he joined Manchester United, and his attempt to parry the drive to safety was especially misguided. The ball was never going to clear the penalty area, and having displayed commendable commitment to burst into the box, Perch was perfectly positioned to tap home the rebound.

On so many occasions, Manchester United have conceded an early goal and immediately roused themselves into life. For once, though, their early torpor refused to dissipate.

Newcastle dominated throughout the opening period, hassling and harrying their opponents into errors and constantly threatening to penetrate a surprisingly shaky Manchester United defence.

While Perch, Anita and Gael Bigirimana might not boast the tackling ferocity of Tiote or the creativity of Yohan Cabaye, their energy and work rate is sufficient to mould them into an effective unit.

They refused to allow any of Manchester United's creative players to settle in possession and used the ball sensibly when it came into their path. As a result, it was a major surprise when the hosts equalised with their first threatening attack.

The Northern Echo: RISING TO THE OCCASION: Manchester United left-back Patrice Evra climbs above Newcastle
striker Papiss Cisse at Old Trafford yesterday

Newcastle's defenders failed to deal with van Persie's curled free-kick, and while Tim Krul produced an excellent save after the ball fell fortuitously at the feet of Hernandez, Evans reacted quicker than Fabricio Coloccini to prod home the rebound.

Surely that would be the signal for the usual Magpies collapse? Not so. The irrepressible Ba dragged a low shot across the face of goal within a minute of Manchester United drawing level, and Newcastle were back ahead less than two minutes later.

Simpson, clearly relishing his return to his first employers, drove in a speculative shot from the right-hand corner of the penalty area, and Evans diverted the ball past De Gea under pressure from Cisse.

Cisse was standing in an offside position when Simpson let fly, and it initially appeared as though an assistant's flag was going to deny Newcastle their goal. However, after a lengthy period of consultation initiated by referee Mike Dean, the goal was allowed to stand.

It was the correct decision given that Cisse did not make any contact with the ball, although Ferguson's furious haranguing of the referee, fourth official and assistant prior to the start of the second half suggests the Manchester United boss clearly felt Evans was being tugged as he slid in to score his own goal. Goodness knows how Ferguson avoided being sent to the stands, except for the fact, of course, that he is Sir Alex Ferguson and can seemingly do whatever he wants without any threat of censure.

Ferguson's mood would have been even blacker had Newcastle been further ahead at half-time, a situation that almost came to pass when Sylvain Marveaux curled a free-kick against the crossbar in the 39th minute.

Manchester United's second equaliser came 13 minutes after the break, with Evra latching on to Perch's headed clearance and drilling a low shot from the edge of the area into the bottom corner of the net.

Yet Newcastle were not still not sated and claimed the lead for the third occasion in the 68th minute. Substitute Gabriel Obertan surged down the left-hand side, and Cisse lashed the winger's pull back beyond De Gea.

By this stage, the game was see-sawing wildly, and van Persie claimed his customary goal three minutes later. Krul saved the Dutchman's first effort, but Carrick pushed the ball back into van Persie's path and he duly found the net at the second attempt.

Suddenly, Manchester United had hit their stride, and Hernandez spurned three decent opportunities, with van Persie volleying just past the post.

Sammy Ameobi came within inches of a winner for Newcastle, jinking past three defenders before sliding a low shot against the base of the post, but as is the case so often, the final word went to Ferguson's side.

Carrick clipped over a cross from the right, and Hernandez was completely unmarked as he slid the ball past an exposed Krul.