Newcastle's 'frustrated' dressing room, big change on cards and the troubling issue before Leeds

By Ciaran Kelly

Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin both looked stunned as they stood with their hands on their hips inside the centre circle following Newcastle United's 4-1 defeat against Manchester United.

Having played well in spells, and even drawn level in the 56th minute, Newcastle ended up being on the wrong side of a heavy defeat and the away end turned on Steve Bruce.

The dressing room was understandably 'frustrated' after the match but the Magpies are going to struggle unless they tighten up at the back.

READ MORE: Steve Bruce has never been more wrong about Newcastle supporters

Bruce has trialled a range of combinations - Matt Ritchie is the only defender who has started all four league games - but Newcastle have now let in 12 goals this season.

Newcastle are not going to win games if they keep conceding an average of three goals a match - particularly when striker Callum Wilson is not fit to put away chances at the other end.

Changes are bound to be on the cards when Leeds come to St James' Park on Friday night and some may yet be enforced after Ritchie, Ciaran Clark and Joe Willock all picked up knocks at Old Trafford.

It remains to be seen whether Hayden might move back into midfield against Leeds to allow Federico Fernandez to come back in while a change of 'keeper seems inevitable at some point down the line.

Karl Darlow, who, of course, was such a crucial player for Newcastle in the first half of last season, is back in contention, after all.

Darlow returned to the match day squad on Saturday for the first time since he was hospitalised with COVID earlier this summer and Bruce had been weighing up whether to even start the shot-stopper against Manchester United just 24 hours before the game.

Bruce stuck with Woodman, who you have to feel for given the standard of Newcastle's defending this season, but, such are his own high standards, the 24-year-old will have felt he could have done better with both of Cristiano Ronaldo's goals on Saturday.

Having picked up just a point this season, Hayden admitted Newcastle were in a 'tough spell' and reminded his team-mates that they are 'going to need everyone in the squad to stick together'.

We may only be four games in, but Friday night's match against Leeds feels significant in so many ways after Newcastle dropped to 19th place. Given how supporters have made their feelings clear both at Old Trafford and St James' Park in the last two weeks, a win is a must to finally get the season going.

Newcastle have been able to take positives from a half here or an hour there, but a complete performance will be required to get the better of Marcelo Bielsa's side, who caused the Magpies problems last season.

It will be a very different test to the one Newcastle faced as huge underdogs in the Cristiano Ronaldo show on Saturday.

Before you even factored in Ronaldo's return, Newcastle had won just once at Old Trafford since 1972; the black-and-whites had conceded 108 Premier League goals against Manchester United; and Bruce had never even won a game as an opposition manager at his old stomping ground.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United runs with the ball whilst under pressure from Joe Willock of Newcastle United (Getty Images)

Was it any wonder that Newcastle had odds of 17/1 with some bookmakers to cause an upset?

Yet, as bizarre as it sounds, that lack of expectation will have encouraged rather than deterred the visitors. If Ronaldo was the conductor of this circus, then, Newcastle's players were desperate to avoid being the clowns.

Jamal Lewis urged his team-mates to 'spoil the game and really put our imprint on it' while Allan Saint-Maximin stressed Manchester United were 'not invincible' and the Magpies could win 'if every player gives the best they can give'. Similarly, Bruce hoped Newcastle could 'upset the applecart'

The directors' box was, unsurprisingly, packed to see Ronaldo back in the Premier League and Newcastle managing director Lee Charnley, Geordie favourite Declan Donnelly, super agent Jorge Mendes, Manchester United legends Sir Alex Ferguson and Ryan Giggs, and Oscar winner Gary Oldman were among those present.

Yet this was not the procession that Manchester United supporters were expecting. A crunching tackle from Sean Longstaff on Mason Greenwood near the halfway line served as a statement of intent from Newcastle with just six minutes on the clock.

It was from that tackle that the visitors seemed to settle, calmly keeping hold of the ball for 20 seconds, before Matt Ritchie picked out Allan Saint-Maximin with a punt forward.

Saint-Maximin's clever, first-time flick sent Joelinton and Raphael Varane off on a footrace and the Newcastle forward did well to cut inside the centre-back before firing his effort harmlessly wide.

It was a weak effort but you could see the confidence the visitors took from that passage of play as Matt Ritchie applauded his team-mates.

Defensively, aside from one Varane let-off, Newcastle were holding firm and Saint-Maximin took the visitors up the field quickly on the counter-attack whenever they won the ball back on the edge of their own area.

On one such occasion, when a Saint-Maximin-led breakaway appeared to have broken down, a poor Manchester United clearance was seized upon by Miguel Almiron just outside the box. Almiron's initial effort was blocked but the ball fell to the onrushing Matt Ritchie, whose deflected effort forced David de Gea into his first save of the afternoon midway through the first half.

Newcastle were growing in belief and, when Javier Manquillo forced Luke Shaw to concede a throw-in deep in his own half, the Magpies were presented with a gift on 28 minutes.

Shaw tried to find Bruno Fernandes with the short throw-in but the sleepy Portugal international allowed the ball to bounce and Joe Willock pounced before the Newcastle midfielder lashed his shot over the bar from close range.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United scores their side's first goal (Getty Images)

It was a tight angle but, against an opponent like this, Newcastle simply had to take these opportunities.

Sure enough, Manchester United were soon in front. After holding out for 44 minutes, Newcastle's defenders just did not get tight enough to the ambidextrous Mason Greenwood as he cut onto his left foot. The forward's deflected effort was fumbled by Woodman but only Ronaldo gambled on a rebound to fire the hosts in front.

It was a sucker punch right before half-time and re-energised the home crowd yet that goal probably did not change the tone of the team talk delivered by Bruce and his staff, who will have been encouraged by how well the visitors handled the occasion up to that point.

Clearly, the players were buoyed by what they were told at the break because they certainly responded.

Almiron, who has not looked himself in this system of late, looked reborn and a superb solo run from the Paraguay international cut Manchester United wide open in the 55th minute.

Almiron had a lot to do when Ritchie picked him out just outside his own area but a clever turn took both Nemanja Matic and Luke Shaw out of the game before the midfielder jumped over the sliding Harry Maguire, put the afterburners on and calmly squared the ball to Saint-Maximin deep in the opposition half.

Newcastle United's Javier Manquillo celebrates scoring (PA)

Saint-Maximin took two deft touches before laying the ball off to the overlapping Manquillo, who drilled his effort past compatriot David de Gea from close range to send the away end into raptures.

Newcastle supporters dared to dream but when the opposition have a five-time Ballon d'Or winner in their ranks, games can quickly be turned on their head once again and Newcastle were level for just six minutes.

Ronaldo, showing remarkable pace at 36, latched onto Luke Shaw's through ball, sprinted past Isaac Hayden and fired the ball through Woodman's legs to put Manchester United back in front and change the atmosphere inside Old Trafford once more.

Newcastle, to their credit, came back again and Joelinton managed to get a shot away despite being closed down by four red shirts, but de Gea was equal to it and punched the ball over the bar with 67 minutes on the clock.

Holes started to appear as Newcastle went in search of a second equaliser and the Magpies' tired defenders gave Fernandes the space he needed as they backed off and the midfielder let fly with a stunning long-range effort Woodman could do nothing about late on to make it 3-1.

Substitute Jesse Lingard added a fourth in the 90th minute as the nine Newcastle players who got back were undone by an intricate passing move inside the box.

Was it any wonder the Newcastle players looked stunned at full-time?

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