Sir Alex Ferguson blamed Lee Probert, the referee, rather than fatigue or Cheik Tioté’s successful suppression of Wayne Rooney for his side’s failure to win at St James’ Park.
The Manchester United manager saw Newcastle United survive a 90th-minute penalty claim when Javier Hernández was given a yellow card for simulation after appearing to fall over Danny Simpson’s outstretched leg.
“It was a clear penalty,” said Ferguson. “I thought the referee had a good game tonight but he’s let himself down by booking the player. If it’s not a penalty, fine, but to book him is an insult. There is definitely contact, no doubt about that.”
Simpson, once an Old Trafford right-back, disagreed. “To be honest, I didn’t feel like I touched him, maybe he went over too soft,” said the 24-year-old. “I’m glad the referee gave it my way, I’m glad he made the right decision and the lads got a point having worked so hard.”
Such words would be anathema to his former manager but at least, with Arsenal now trailing United by seven points after their own draw as well, against Liverpool last weekend, Ferguson could afford to be reasonably sanguine. “At this stage of the season you look at it and we’re in a better position than we were on Saturday,” he said.
So too are Newcastle. This draw, inspired by an impressive performance from Tioté, their Ivorian midfielder who did much to quell Rooney’s threat, moved Alan Pardew’s side up to ninth while also placing them on 40 points, a tally which virtually eliminates any lingering relegation fears.
A delighted Pardew is now aiming for a “top-eight” finish but conceded that Simpson had played with fire in stoppage time. He said: “Danny sticks a leg out, which is dangerous, but he didn’t touch the guy, he definitely dived and was looking for it.”
“I’d like to praise the referee, he was very brave there. You have to applaud his decision. United are pushing at the end, looking for a late goal and history, so there’s pressure there. My heart sank. I thought the ref would give it, which would have been hugely frustrating. ”
Pardew, though, was less enamoured with Probert after the official did not award another potential penalty when Peter Lovenkrands tumbled under Anderson’s challenge. “The Lovenkrands one was a sitter,” said Newcastle’s manager. “It was a story of two penalties, one that definitely was for us and one that wasn’t for them.”
Pardew prepares his players for every match they are about to play by providing them with printed dossiers on individual opponents augmented by personalised DVDs highlighting tricks and tactics specific to particular rivals.
Such homework appeared to pay off during a disciplined performance in which the sterling defensive work of Tioté, José Enrique and Fabricio Coloccini was complemented by, in the first half at least, some powerful play on the flanks by Joey Barton and Jonas Gutiérrez.
“We really got at them in the first 30 minutes and deserved a goal,” said Pardew who gave Stephen Ireland, on loan from Aston Villa, a debut as a second-half substitute. “But Manchester United moved us around in the second half and we were out on our feet at the end.
“Their movement and calmness in possession is something we aspire to. That’s going to be our next step next season. But we can be very proud of our discipline, our team impressed me tonight.”
Pardew added: “We need a bit more guile and imagination but Manchester United, who I think will win the league title, are the best team we’ve played in terms of quality. So it was a tremendous night for Newcastle United.”