NEWCASTLE have conceded more goals to Manchester United than to any other club, but thanks to a resilient display at St James' Park, the tally remains at 289.

And thanks to the quality of the opposition, the Magpies' ninth clean sheet of the season was easily the most impressive.

With the entire Newcastle back four combining discipline with desire, Alan Pardew's side edged another point towards safety. Seven points clear with five games remaining, it would take an incredible series of events to plunge them into trouble now.

It would also take a remarkable turnaround for Manchester United to be denied the Premier League title, but should Arsenal beat Tottenham tonight and also record a home win over the Red Devils on May 1, Sir Alex Ferguson's side will hold just a one-point advantage over their London rivals.

In such a scenario, Newcastle could justifiably claim to have played a pivotal role in keeping the title race alive. Indeed, had they boasted an out-and-out goalscorer in their ranks, they might even have done more than that.

Manchester United have hardly been Newcastle's favourite opponents in recent years. Prior to last night, the two sides' 15 previous meetings had produced 12 Manchester United victories and three draws. So much for competing as equals, as Kevin Keegan's side had done in the mid-1990s.

While Sir Alex Ferguson was able to recall Wayne Rooney following the striker's two-match ban and leave Dimitar Berbatov out of his squad entirely, Alan Pardew started with seven of the players that had lined up at Loftus Road on the final day of the last Championship season. That should be borne in mind when assessing how far Newcastle have come over the last 12 months.

Manchester United have reasserted their domestic dominance in the same period, but the league leaders have been uneasy travellers, winning just five Premier League away games.

A degree of trepidation was apparent in the way they started at St James', even if Tim Krul, deputising for the injured Steve Harper, was called into action as early as the second minute to intercept a precise Wayne Rooney cross that was fizzing straight towards the unmarked Javier Hernandez.

The visitors would not really threaten again until the 19th minute, and by that stage Newcastle had created two decent opportunities of their own as Jonas Gutierrez and Joey Barton caused problems from either flank.

Gutierrez fashioned the first, cutting in from the left before unleashing a curled strike that deflected wide off Chris Smalling, while Barton was the instigator of the second, delivering a teasing cross from the right that a stretching Shola Ameobi prodded straight at Edwin van der Sar.

Newcastle's energy and enthusiasm was commendable, and was posited against the swift counter-attacking play of Manchester United, who looked to release Rooney behind the hosts' back four at every opportunity.

The ploy had mixed results, although Rooney should probably have done better midway through the first half when he profited from Mike Williamson's slip, played a neat one-two with Hernandez and curled wastefully over the crossbar from the edge of the area.

Mind you, Manchester United's prospects might also have been enhanced had Nani chosen to stay on his feet rather than theatrically throwing himself to the floor at every opportunity. Just as Didier Drogba has gradually removed diving from his game, so it to be hoped that Ferguson can persuade the mercurial Portuguese to clean up his act.

Perhaps Nani's play-acting was proof of the visitors' frustration at their inability to dissect an assured Newcastle back four, with Anderson and Michael Carrick offering precious little in the way of creativity from the heart of midfield.

Indeed, the best chance of the first half came the home side's way in the 44th minute, with Peter Lovenkrands skewing a header wide after Smalling completely misjudged Barton's cross.

Nevertheless, parity at the break was not to be sniffed at, and the second half proved every bit as even as the first.

An unmarked Ryan Giggs headed straight at Krul, but while Manchester United increasingly dominated possession as the evening wore on, Danny Guthrie and Cheik Tiote worked tirelessly to prevent them forging a breakthrough.

The commitment of the entire Newcastle team was impressive, and when Hernandez threatened to break clear in a rare moment of attacking enterprise, Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini combined diligently to snuff out the threat.

The Magpies' own attacking was fairly sporadic after the break, although Lovenkrands should have found the target with a header on the hour mark after John O'Shea struggled to clear the influential Guthrie's cross.

The Dane was withdrawn to enable Stephen Ireland to make his Newcastle debut in the 69th minute, moments after Giggs wasted Manchester United's best opportunity of the night by side-footing wide from the penalty spot after Patrice Evra's surging run had unpicked the hosts' right-hand side.

Ireland's first touch was a swivelled volley that flew narrowly wide of the left-hand upright, but it remains to be seen whether the Aston Villa loanee can do enough in the next five matches to secure a permanent transfer.

Manchester United made second-half changes of their own, and the St James' Park crowd clearly relished the opportunity to let Michael Owen know what they thought of him with ten minutes left. The former skipper wanted to make an impression during his time at Newcastle. Suffice to say, he did.