MANCHESTER, December 26 – Wayne Rooney scored twice as Manchester United rewarded manager Louis van Gaal’s decision to grant his players Christmas Day off by beating Newcastle United 3-1 on Friday.
Rooney, relishing the deeper midfield role which he has been assigned recently, effectively decided the contest with two lethal finishes and set up a third goal for Robin van Persie in the second half.
But although United won for the 18th time in their last 21 Boxing Day outings, they were obliged to survive a spirited opening quarter to the match from Alan Pardew’s visitors.
Rooney settled nerves with an excellently worked 23rd-minute opener, but United had lived dangerously up to that point, despite enjoying a glut of possession.
The visitors looked dangerous on the counter-attack and United were fortunate to avoid conceding a penalty when Juan Mata appeared to clip the heels of Yoan Gouffran, sending the Newcastle man clattering to the ground.
Just six minutes later, United were indebted to the ever-impressive David de Gea as the Spanish goalkeeper flew to his right to keep out a magnificent 25-yard shot from Daryl Janmaat, who had been set up by Newcastle’s teenage debutant Adam Armstrong.
The 17-year-old Armstrong was an unwitting accomplice to the opening goal, showing brilliant pace to beat Paddy McNair but then wasting possession by shooting directly at the legs of a United defender.
It proved a costly decision by the teenager as Rooney broke upfield and squared the ball for Mata, who, in turn, launched an accurate pass into the area for Radamel Falcao.
The Colombian forward seemed poised to shoot from a tight angle, but instead squared the ball for Rooney to convert into a gaping goal.
It was an impressive assist from Falcao, who could have single-handedly put the game beyond Newcastle in the first half, given the amount of half-chances that came his way.
– Mata vision –
On 13 minutes, he should have done better from Ashley Young’s left-wing cross, appearing to duck out of the way of the winger’s fiercely hit centre.
Then, shortly after United had taken the lead, the on-loan Monaco striker did connect with a cross from Young, only to glance his header just wide of the far post.
Rooney, however, did not need a second invitation to double United’s lead after 36 minutes with another goal orchestrated by a magnificent Mata pass.
After Falcao won the ball back, Phil Jones found Mata, who waited for Rooney to arrive and slipped through a perfect assist for the England captain, who made no mistake with a clinical 12-yard finish.
It did not take long for United to punish Newcastle further in the second half, with Rooney this time the provider.
He advanced, paused, and then lifted an inviting pass forward for Van Persie, who steered a header past the dive of Jak Alnwick.
Not for the first time, a brilliant Young cross was wasted as Van Persie and Falcao both failed to make a connection.
Meanwhile, Rooney, seeking a hat-trick, went close with a 19-yard free-kick that soared over the wall and dipped onto the roof of the Newcastle goal.
Van Persie also spurned a glorious chance, completely mis-kicking with an attempted volley, while Ayoze Perez, one of the few bright points on the day for Newcastle, forced De Gea into a rare piece of action, low at the foot of his near post, as the game wore down.
The visitors’ consolation finally came, five minutes from time, after Jones needlessly tripped Jack Colback and substitute Papiss Cisse convincingly beat De Gea with a penalty into the top-right corner.