United pass another test

Sir Alex Ferguson always knew Manchester United would face some testing moments before the end of the season.

Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo skips a challenge from Newcastle's Alan Smith.
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Sir Alex Ferguson always knew Manchester United would face some testing moments before the end of the season. No team are going to lie down and let them waltz away with a quintuple of trophies this season. A combative and courageous Newcastle certainly did not and while no one has doubted United's quality, they also showed they had true grit to fire themselves seven points clear of Chelsea and Liverpool at the top of the Premier League.

After a rare blunder from Edwin van der Sar had gifted Peter Lovenkrands the opener - ending his clean sheet record run at 1,311 minutes - it was left to Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov to clinch a crucial 2-1 win. "It required a lot of grit," said a relieved Ferguson. "You could say there was pressure on us because Liverpool and Chelsea both won on Tuesday, but we've faced this challenge for years. You have to rely on and trust the players. It is nothing new to them."

Ji-sung Park, the United midfielder, added: "We experienced how it feels to be chased last season, but we enjoy the challenge of every game. There was a bit of pressure on us, but I think that can be a good thing because it means you are fully concentrated on the game." Conceding a goal - for the first time since Samir Nasri beat him twice back in November - was something new again for Van der Sar. He spilled a cross-shot from Jonas Gutierrez to allow Lovenkrands an easy finish.

Ferguson added: "Losing that record was going to happen some time and it is out of the road now." United have to look onwards now with more exacting tests to come in the next nine days. The next one is Fulham on Saturday in the FA Cup quarter finals and Rooney said: "We've got the FA Cup, the Champions League [on] Wednesday and Liverpool [next] Saturday, so it's a massive week for us." For Newcastle, the performance will give them hope in their relegation struggle. Among the positives was a first senior start for Alan Smith after almost 10 months out with a broken ankle.

He battled manfully against his former club and said: "I was seeing stars by the time I came off. In the end the result was hard to take, but I think that pride, attitude and commitment were the aim and we achieved that." @Email:akhan@thenational.ae