Wayne Rooney’s struggles in front of goal continued as Manchester United were held to a 0-0 Premier League draw by Newcastle United at Old Trafford.
Much has been made of Rooney’s poor form in the opening stages of the season and, barring a bright opening 20 minutes or so, the United captain again toiled in his lone striking role on Saturday.
Rooney began the game like a man on a mission as United subjected Newcastle to wave after wave of attack early on, but Louis van Gaal’s side failed to make the breakthrough and then laboured as the visitors’ confidence grew.
United quickly ran out of ideas and it was full Newcastle debutant Aleksandar Mitrovic who went closest to scoring – the Serbian striker crashing a towering header onto Sergio Romero’s crossbar midway through the first half.
Javier Hernandez was introduced late on as a support act for Rooney and the Mexican should have snatched a winner with 11 minutes remaining when Tim Krul denied him from close range.
An end-to-end finish to the match saw both sides go agonisingly close to a winner, with Chris Smalling hitting the post with a header before Newcastle debutant Florian Thauvin almost diverted Papiss Cisse’s centre past Romero.
Van Gaal, who handed a first start to Bastian Schweinsteiger, insisted earlier in the week that he was happy with his attacking options, but the Dutchman may wish to reassess that view with just 10 days of the transfer window remaining.
The hosts dominated from the off and Rooney – now without a goal in his last 10 games – had the ball in the net four minutes in after latching onto Adnan Januzaj’s throughball, only to be denied by a marginal offside call.
Rooney, so off-colour in the early weeks of the campaign, looked bright and led the charge as United poured forward in the first quarter of an hour.
It felt like a matter of time before they broke Newcastle’s resistance, with Krul twice called into action to deny Juan Mata before Rooney tested the Dutchman from 20 yards.
But Newcastle’s first real foray into United’s half after 24 minutes almost resulted in an unlikely opener, as Mitrovic’s superb header from Chancel Mbemba’s inch-perfect cross from the right hit the crossbar with Romero beaten.
Unsurprisingly, United’s intensity dropped after their breathless start and Ayoze Perez’s snapshot had Romero scrambling across his goal just before the break.
Memphis Depay was the catalyst for their midweek win over Club Brugge, but he could not get going here – his below-par display summed up by a wild shot blazed well over the bar on the hour.
United failed to replicate their start to the first half after the interval and Van Gaal turned to Michael Carrick – in place of Schweinsteiger – and Hernandez in an attempt to lift his side.
But, aside from Hernandez’s late chance that Krul got down well to save and Smalling’s header that hit the upright, United could not find a way through a well-drilled Newcastle backline as Steve McClaren’s team escaped with a hard-earned point after Thauvin had almost snatched all three.
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