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United begin title defence with dropped home points

SoccerNews in English Premier League 17 Aug 2008

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Manchester United started the defence of their Premier League title with a 1-1 draw with Newcastle at Old Trafford, with Darren Fletcher's goal cancelling out Obafemi Martins' effort for the visitors.

With Carlos Tevez not included in Manchester United's 18-man squad for family reasons, Sir Alex Ferguson opted for a partnership of Wayne Rooney and Fraizer Campbell in attack but last year's double winners once again demonstrated their need for new attacking options.

They fell behind to Martins' header but despite Fletcher's immediate reply in the 24th minute, United could not find a second, even though they dominated both territory and possession.

To make matters worse for Ferguson, who has been heavily linked with a move for the Tottenham striker Dimitar Berbatov, he also lost midfielder Michael Carrick to injury in the first half as his team drew at home on the opening day for the second successive year.

The hosts had enjoyed a couple of early flurries but Newcastle were the first really to threaten, with Martins skipping past Paul Scholes and firing wide of Edwin van der Sar's goal.

The Premier League champions went close themselves when Wayne Rooney surged down the left and crossed for Campbell, making his first Premier League start, to head powerfully straight at Newcastle goalkeeper Shay Given, who blocked with his head.

With just under a quarter of an hour gone, Given was called upon again to make a fine double save from Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes after Nicky Butt's loose pass.

In the 22nd minute, Newcastle took a shock lead with Martins escaping Fletcher to meet Danny Guthrie's corner with enough power to beat Scholes on the line.

Crucially, Newcastle centre-back Steven Taylor was injured in the process of Martins scoring and was still off the pitch receiving treatment when the hosts equalised just two minutes later.

Patrice Evra fed Ryan Giggs on the left and the Welsh veteran squeezed a cross past James Milner for Fletcher to stab in from close-range.

But just after that Sir Alex was given another injury concern when Carrick limped out of the fray.

United started the second period with real purpose but again it was the visitors that had the first opportunity, with Martins driving straight at Van der Sar after collecting Butt's cross-field ball.

Guthrie struck wide from distance as Newcastle continued to look steady but 11 minutes after the restart, Given pulled off a fine one-handed stop after Campbell span and shot from just outside the area.

The hosts were camped in enemy territory but despite dominating possession, they were struggling to create openings and had another scare when Martins just missed from around 30 yards and Milner had an effort deflected over.

Martins should have put Newcastle ahead again from the resulting corner but headed over after slipping his marker John O'Shea.

Ferguson was growing frustrated and brought on youngster Rodrigo Possebon, a Brazilian midfielder for his Premier League debut, in place of Giggs.

The home team pounded away and after Rooney's shot was deflected wide, Fletcher's corner was met by Nemanja Vidic and the Serbian's header came back off the bar.

After Campbell's reckless challenge on Newcastle new-boy Fabricio Coloccini, Ferguson threw on another new player, with another Brazilian Rafael Da Silva making his competitive debut.

But even that failed to ignite United and after Evra and Rooney both missed openings in added time, Newcastle held on to take an impressive and deserved point.

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