NEWCASTLE, March 5- Louis Van Gaal admitted he feared Manchester United would lose ground on their rivals in the top four race before Ashley Young’s late strike clinched a crucial 1-0 win at Newcastle.
Young’s 89th minute goal secured three vital points at St James’ Park on Wednesday for a relieved van Gaal, whose side has lost only twice in their last 22 Premier League matches.
It was also a night which will create more positive and negative headlines, as United defender Jonny Evans was accused of spitting at Newcastle’s Papiss Cisse and Jonas Gutierrez wore the famous black and white stripes for the first time in 17 months following his successful treatment for testicular cancer.
Van Gaal was delighted with the result, but admitted he endured some nervous moments in a pulsating game, capped by a number of tremendous saves by both keepers.
“I’m very pleased with the performance but we did not reward ourselves for a long time and in football when you do that you can come away with a negative result,” he said.
“It was so important we had to win today as all our competitors also won in our rat race.
“David De Gea made two fantastic caves, as did Tim Krul, but we waited a long time for the winning goal. It showed the fighting spirit of our team.
“We got our reward at the end of the match. It was a fantastic moment for us because all our competitors won.
“We are still fourth in the league after a difficult match, in front of a difficult crowd, so we are now full of confidence to take on Arsenal in the FA Cup.
“I lost here before with Barcelona and AZ Alkmaar so I knew it was a difficult ground. Ryan Giggs told me they would pressurise us and we have to make the crowd quiet, which I think we did. We deserved the win.”
When asked about the spitting incident involving Evans and Cisse, van Gaal replied: “I cannot imagine Jonny Evans doing anything like that as he is a very modest person.
“I cannot imagine he would do that. It was not a discussion in the dressing room.”
But angry Newcastle head coach John Carver said: “You can’t do it, can you? It is one of the worst things in football.”
– Unsavoury clash –
The FA will look at video evidence before taking any action, but both players could be charged following their unsavoury clash.
Controversy erupted early on as Newcastle fans screamed for a 10th minute penalty after Emmanuel Riviere appeared to be upended by Chris Smalling, while at the other end Wayne Rooney beat the offside trap only to dink his effort past Krul and the wrong side of the upright.
Riviere missed two more glorious chances to break the deadlock, before Krul produced an incredible double save to first deny Marouane Fellaini, then Young.
After 65 minutes St James’ Park rose to its feet in unison as Gutierrez made his long-awaited return from cancer.
The Argentine winger replaced Ryan Taylor and was immediately handed the captain’s armband by Fabricio Coloccini as a gesture of support for his successful battle.
Within two minutes Gutierrez was given a yellow card for a foul on Adnan Januzaj and seconds later Cisse badly scuffed his shot wide of the target with just De Gea to beat, following a sterling run by Riviere.
It was just left to Young to provide the killer finish which keeps van Gaal’s in-form team gunning for the top four.