The six-goal second-half opened with something you don’t see very often, two consecutive clearances off his own line by Steven Taylor in under 10 seconds, first from Tevez then from Rooney, with Given beaten both times, writes Paul Wilson.

Manchester United bounced back to the top of the table with a boosted goal difference after beating a beleaguered Newcastle by a scoreline that hardly reflected one of the most one-sided games Old Trafford will see all season.

Incredibly, there were signs of home nerves in a first-half that remained obstinately scoreless thanks mainly to Shay Given, before Manchester United turned on the style to win easily in the second. Newcastle are the sort of team who seem to invite opponents to turn on the style and win easily, and without any exaggeration Manchester United might have reached double figures without difficulty.

To complete a miserable week, Alan Smith was sent off against his former club, for the way in which he insisted that Carlos Tevez’s final goal had not crossed the line. He might have been miffed at being wrongly penalised for the free-kick that led to the first goal, but arguing the toss over a sixth in stoppage time summed up Newcastle’s situation. Energy and passion wrongly directed. Still to score for Newcastle, Smith is up there with Joey Barton as proof of Sam Allardyce’s dead hand in the transfer market. The Newcastle fans, with chants and banners, once again indicated they favour Alan Shearer.

There were no funereal silences at Old Trafford when Newcastle came calling. ‘Fergie’s right, the fans are shite’ was struck up by the visitors every time the decibel level dropped, which was rare. The circumstances of Allardyce’s departure gave the home crowd the opportunity to reprise an old favourite, and ‘Cheer up Alan Shearer’ rang round the ground every few minutes, complete with its allegation that Newcastle are a ‘shite football team’.

The visitors looked well worth that billing when their defence was sliced open by Michael Carrick after just two minutes, Wayne Rooney accepting the pass slickly enough but taking one touch too many and ending up blazing a good opportunity over the bar. Caretaker manager Nigel Pearson had recalled Stephen Carr and Jose Enrique to shore up a defence badly hit by African Nations Cup absentees, in addition to dropping Mark Viduka to the bench.

A mistake by John O’Shea gave Newcastle their first chance after 10 minutes, only for James Milner to see his shot blocked on the line by Rio Ferdinand. After that, the game resolved itself into a contest between Rooney and Given. The goalkeeper sprang to his right to keep out a shot from the edge of the area after 14 minutes and did even better to react to Rooney’s volley seconds later after Carrick had chipped a pass over the defence.

Claudio Cacapa made a brave block to deny Tevez and then cleared an O’Shea header off the line before Damien Duff dispossessed Carrick to shoot over at the other end. Cristiano Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs had separate penalty claims waved away before the interval. Neither was particularly convincing, though the manner in which Manchester United appealed them, with Ferguson popping up like Mr. Punch in his technical area, suggested an anxiety not to mirror Arsenal’s slip by dropping points at home. When Ronaldo was fouled by Carr five minutes later and Rob Styles rather glibly decided that he was again looking for the free-kick, frustration built up to such an extent that Giggs received a lecture for protesting. Ronaldo was denied by Given as he sought to gain an advantage by legitimate means, though right at the end of the first-half United committed too many men to attack at a corner and Rooney went into the book for a petulant foul as Milner attempted to launch a breakaway.

The six-goal second-half opened with something you don’t see very often, two consecutive clearances off his own line by Steven Taylor in under 10 seconds, first from Tevez then from Rooney, with Given beaten both times. Trust Newcastle to set new standards in desperation defending.

Obviously it could not last and when Ronaldo was finally awarded a free-kick on the edge of the area after Smith clipped his heel in the act of shooting, he managed to take full advantage. Not with one of his trademark rockets, but by cleverly burrowing a low shot through the wall that Given had little hope of reaching. There was never going to be any pretence of a contest after that and United had a second goal in six minutes. Tevez tucked away Giggs’ low cross to launch another dummy celebration, though it was Given who must have felt terrible after whacking his clearance kick straight at Cacapa to hand United the chance.

Apart from a Charles N’Zogbia shot that forced a parry from Edwin van der Sar to which Michael Owen could not react in time, that was more or less it from Newcastle. Viduka came on after 64 minutes, though only at the expense of Milner, Newcastle’s liveliest attacker. The home side’s third goal was easily the best of the lot, Ronaldo finishing sharply on the end of a lightning-quick passing move that saw the ball flash first-time between Rooney, Tevez and the scorer after Carrick had made another timely interception. Ferdinand, well found by Rooney, added a fourth before Ronaldo deservedly claimed his first United hat-trick and his 22nd goal of the season in the final minutes.

Tevez added his disputed sixth off the crossbar in stoppage time and Carrick could have scored, too, but found Jose Enrique standing on the line ready to make yet another last-ditch clearance. It is all Newcastle’s defenders seem to be good at.