MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Manchester United and an unusually goal-shy Cristiano Ronaldo were unable to find a way past Newcastle United at Old Trafford in the Premier League on Sunday in a 0-0 draw that kept both teams in the top six.
Showing a passion and solidity sometimes lacking from their hosts, Eddie Howe’s Newcastle had the best chance of the game with an extraordinary double header from Joelinton in the first half that came first off the crossbar then off the post.
Newcastle’s Callum Wilson also had a penalty shout denied.
“We’ve had our moments and chances today. I’m very proud of our players and what they’ve given, especially the defensive performance,” Howe told reporters after the match.
Feted before the game for reaching 700 club goals in his career, Ronaldo twice had the ball in the back of the net. But he was offside for the first, while the second was disallowed when he cheekily nicked the ball off Newcastle to stroke it home after claiming a free kick had been taken.
Ronaldo has only scored twice this season for Manchester United, with some pundits already declaring the 37-year-old to be in the twilight of his brilliant career.
The player trudged off the field muttering to himself when he was substituted in the 72nd minute, but United boss Erik Ten Hag defended his decision.
“We have four games in 10 days. We have to keep the strikers fresh. We have to rotate,” he told reporters.
He also defended the Ronaldo’s recent lack of goals.
“It will come. Our strikers will score and they will score a lot. I am confident of that. As long as we keep working hard.”
The result left Manchester United fifth on 16 points, with Newcastle sixth on 15 points with one more game played.
Antony was again Manchester United’s brightest spark, with one close-range shot stopped by Newcastle goalkeeper Nick Pope’s shins. Despite seeing plenty of the ball, however, he was unable to wriggle past Newcastle’s dogged defence or find the perfect cross for his fellow strikers.
Marcus Rashford, on as a substitute for Ronaldo, set up Fred with a late chance but the midfielder pulled his shot just wide. Rashford then missed a header in the final minute as Manchester United pressed for what would have been an undeserved winner.
Roared on non-stop by their travelling army, Newcastle had the best of the first half, frequently finding promising positions after sloppy passing by their opponents.
But without injured striker Alexander Isak, the visitors failed to apply the finishing touch their efforts deserved.
“We just lost that little bit of zip (in attack) but I’m very pleased with the team effort,” Howe said.
In the second half, Newcastle were forced more onto the backfoot, but in truth had little trouble holding out against the hosts.
Erik ten Hag’s subdued strike force will again come under a harsh spotlight after an unimpressive mid-week Europa League performance when they missed countless chances and left it late for a 1-0 win over Omonia Nicosia.
(Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Toby Davis and Ed Osmond)