By Anthony Marshall - Newcastle United Club Reporter
At Old Trafford
Manchester United 1 (Hernandez 49)
Newcastle United 1 (Ba 63pen)
Demba Ba's second half penalty earned ten-man Newcastle United a 1-1 draw at Manchester United in the Premier League on Saturday.
The Magpies' top scorer rolled home his ninth goal of the season from the spot after Hatem Ben Arfa was fouled by Rio Ferdinand inside the box.
It cancelled out Javier Hernandez's somewhat fortunate opener, which came about when a clearance struck the forward and found its way into the back of the net.
Newcastle were forced to play the final 11 minutes with only ten men after Jonas Gutierrez received his marching orders for a second booking, but the visitors stood firm with some heroic defending to record a well-deserved point at the home of the champions.
The hosts, predictably, made a strong start to the contest and carved out the first chance in the fifth minute. A patient passing move eventually found Wayne Rooney with time and space, and the England striker fed Hernandez, who shot first time straight at Tim Krul.
Newcastle's keeper was called into action again minutes later, saving well from the same player after Hernandez had cut in from the right and let fly from 20 yards.
But the Magpies were clearly undaunted by coming up against the Premier League champions in their own back yard. On ten minutes, Ben Arfa flighted a superb ball over the top of the Man Utd rearguard, and Ba was on to it like a flash, volleying towards the bottom corner until the intervention of a full-length David de Gea.
The visitors continued to impose themselves on proceedings and another break came their way in the 19th minute. Gabriel Obertan - on his return to Old Trafford - did brilliantly down the right before chipping a cross to the far post. Even though Ba was beaten to the header, the loose ball fell kindly to Ryan Taylor in a great position, but the full-back scuffed his shot, sending it across the face of goal rather than on target.
Manchester United could, and maybe should have broken the deadlock on the half hour mark. Obertan lost possession and the Red Devils broke at pace. Nani strode forward before sliding a superb pass into the path of Hernandez, who somehow fired high and wide.
And from their next attack, Krul did brilliantly to deny Ryan Giggs an opener - diving down to his right to tip away the veteran's first time strike after Fabio had delivered from the right.
But the chances continued to fall at either end. Obertan, who was proving to be a real threat down the right flank for the visitors, skipped past a couple of challenges before delivering a low cross which Manchester United were unable to properly clear. And as the ball reached the edge of the box, Yohan Cabaye tested De Gea with a half-volley.
The sides went in goalless at half-time but it took Manchester United just four minutes to open the scoring after the restart. Hernandez was fouled by Steven Taylor 20 yards out, and while Rooney's free-kick struck the wall, the ball fell kindly for the front man to have another go.
Steven Taylor tried to intercept his low shot but only succeeded in deflecting the ball onto the body of Hernandez, with it rolling agonisingly past Krul and into the back of the net.
That seemed to give the champions another gear, and both Fabio and Rooney went close to immediately doubling the advantage but were unable to find the target. Ashley Young was next to try his luck and was struck inches wide of the upright after being picked out by full-back Patrice Evra.
Only an absolutely outstanding save from De Gea prevented Newcastle from levelling things up on 60 minutes. A short corner was worked to Gutierrez, who promptly swung the ball towards Steven Taylor at the far post.
The centre-half picked out his defensive partner Fabricio Coloccini with an intelligent nod down, and the Argentine fired a half-volley into the floor which was destined for the back of the net until De Gea somehow sprung from nowhere to tip it behind.
But they got that chance of an equaliser three minutes later. Ben Arfa picked up the ball and burst into the box, only to be upended by Ferdinand. Referee Michael Jones signalled for a corner, believing the defender had played the ball, but his assistant flagged and after a lengthy discussion a penalty was awarded.
Ba stepped up to take responsibility, and with more than 70,000 fans willing the striker to fluff his lines, Newcastle's top scorer was the coolest man on the pitch, rolling the spot kick into the bottom right hand corner and sending De Gea the wrong way in the process.
Manchester United tried to respond, and Rooney lifted a shot over the top from just inside the area, while at the other end Ryan Taylor forced De Gea to claim his direct free-kick under pressure from Ba.
If Newcastle's task was tough in the first place, it was made even harder in the 79th minute. Gutierrez slid in on Nani, taking the man before the ball, and Mr Jones swiftly reached for a second yellow card for the Argentine international.
From the resulting free-kick, Krul made an outstanding one-handed, point blank save to keep out Nemanja Vidic's header, and the stopper repeated his heroics minutes later to turn an Evra effort behind for a corner.
The post denied Young with less than five minutes remaining and only some brave and last-ditch defending kept the hosts at bay - none more so than an exceptional goalline clearance from Danny Simpson to keep out Hernandez's header.
Hernandez thought he had won it deep into stoppage time when he tapped in Giggs' centre from close range, but the goal was correctly ruled out for offside by the assistant.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Davide de Gea; Fabio da Silva (Chris Smalling 90), Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic (c), Patrice Evra (Federico Macheda 88); Nani, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs, Ashley Young; Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez
Subs not used: Anders Lindergaard, Jonny Evans Darron Gibson, Ji-Sung Park, Antonio Valencia
Newcastle United (4-4-1-1): Tim Krul; Danny Simpson, Steven Taylor, Fabricio Coloccini (c), Ryan Taylor; Gabriel Obertan (Sammy Ameobi 64), Yohan Cabaye, Danny Guthrie (James Perch 74), Jonas Gutierrez; Hatem Ben Arfa (Peter Lovenkrands 80); Demba Ba
Subs not used: Rob Elliot, Davide Santon, Dan Gosling, Shola Ameobi
Referee: Michael Jones (Cheshire)
Attendance: 75,594 (1,800 Newcastle)