Newcastle yesterday won a Premier League home game for the first time since October with a surprise victory over second-placed Manchester United. It was same nightÂ Liverpool moved to within two points of of Mourinho side after goals from Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah secured a comfortable victory over struggling Southampton.
Matt Ritchie scored the only goal in the second half as the Magpies climbed out of the relegation zone and left the visitors 16 points adrift of leaders Manchester City.
The Red Devils missed a string of chances to take something from a ground at which manager Jose Mourinho is yet to win a league match.
But debutant Martin Dubravka was excellent in the Newcastle goal, denying Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial, Ashley Young and Michael Carrick.
And the hosts could have had a first-half penalty when Chris Smalling tripped Dwight Gayle.
Defeat for Manchester United raises the prospect of Manchester City being crowned champions when the teams meet at Etihad Stadium onÂ 7 April.
Should both teams win all of their league matches prior to that, City would only need to draw with their fierce rivals to secure the title that day.
Mourinho said after the game that Newcastle had fought “like animals” – and the hosts certainly produced a fierce and committed performance.
The Magpies made more sprints (553 to their opponents’ 490), ran further (115km to 105km), and in DeAndre Yedlin and Ritchie had the game’s fastest and most industrious players.
Manager Rafael Benitez may be hoping recent signing Islam Slimani, who missed this game, can add more to an attack that only managed three shots on target, but Ritchie was clinical when it mattered.Â
The impressive Jonjo Shelvey sent in a free-kick that the equally eye-catching Florian Lejeune headed down, and Ritchie collected Gayle’s flick to shoot past David de Gea.
That ended a run of 43 shots without a Premier League goal for Ritchie – and gave Newcastle their first home win in the league since 21 October.
Prior to the match they were just one point better off than in their 2015-16 relegation season, but this win moved them up to 13th – and only three points behind 10th-placed Bournemouth.
Mourinho’s decision to select the same starting XI that lost convincingly to top-four rivals Tottenham last month may have unsettled some visiting fans.
But, while the Red Devils were much better here than during an abject display at Wembley, some familiar flaws resurfaced.
Then, Phil Jones missed a crucial first header in the build-up to Christian Eriksen’s early goal. Here, nobody tracked Lejeune as he ran between Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba to head down for Ritchie to score.
Smalling won just 53% of his headed duels, compared to 77% and 75% respectively for Newcastle’s central-defensive pairing of Lejeune and Jamaal Lascelles.
It suggests a defensive diffidence at odds with a manager who traditionally builds title-winning teams from the back.
Overall, the visitors had the better chances but were thwarted by Dubravka, who notably stuck out a leg to deny Martial as he latched onto a wonderful, defence-splitting pass from Nemanja Matic in the first half.
Had that chance – or a header from the French forward – gone in, there may well have been a different outcome.
Instead, with Spurs and Liverpool increasing the pressure on them, Mourinho’s side must assert more aerial dominance and show better focus at the back.
In the Liverpool match, Brazil forward Firmino gave his side an early lead with his 20th goal of the season when he finished off a Liverpool counter-attack after being teed up Salah.
Southampton then twice brought saves out of Reds goalkeeper Loris Karius, before Liverpool added a second through Salah after he exchanged passes with Firmino.
It was the Egypt international’s 29th goal of the season for the club from 36 appearances in all competitions.
Liverpool looked the more likely to score again after half-time as they controlled possession, and only some last-ditch defending prevented a greater margin of victory.
The win ensured Liverpool took advantage ofÂ United’s 1-0 defeat by Rafael Benitez’s NewcastleÂ side earlierÂ on SundayÂ and leapfrogged Tottenham back into third place.
Southampton drop into the relegation zone, a point behind Huddersfield who beat Bournemouth 4-1, with further scrutiny of the position of manager Mauricio Pellegrino likely.