LONDON - Manchester United's title charge was slowed when they drew 0-0 at Newcastle United on Tuesday and missed the chance to move nine points clear of Arsenal at the top of the Premier League standings.
United, back in action after being sent tumbling out of the FA Cup by local rivals Manchester City in the semi-finals on Saturday, could not break down a resolute Newcastle backline.
Sir Alex Ferguson's side, who showed signs of a cup hangover, had chances to break the deadlock with Javier Hernandez going close and Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs guilty of bad misses.
Newcastle dominated possession for large parts of the match at St James Park with Peter Lovenkrands squandering their best opening with a header in the first half.
The game ended in controversy as the visitors appealed for a penalty when Hernandez fell under the challenge of Danny Simpson but referee Lee Probert gave the Mexico striker a yellow card.
"It was a clear penalty," Ferguson told Sky Sports. "It is an insult because he has booked him. The referee has had a good game tonight, but he lets himself down by booking the player. There is definite contact, there is no doubt about that."
United now have 70 points from 33 games, seven points above second-placed Arsenal and nine ahead of Chelsea although the London sides both have a game in hand.
Arsenal visit fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday when Chelsea host struggling Birmingham City.
United, who have now won only five of their 17 away games in the league this season, could have taken the lead in under two minutes when Hernandez latched onto a low cross from Rooney but his close-range effort was smothered by goalkeeper Tim Krul.
Newcastle's hopes of getting a first home win against United since 2001, showed early promise with Jonas Gutierrez, Joey Barton and Shola Ameobi all failing to take their chances.
The best opportunity of the half, however, fell to Rooney - restored to the side after serving a two-match ban for swearing into a TV Camera - when he burst through the middle but lifted his shot over the bar with just the keeper to beat.
Lovenkrands wasted Newcastle's best chance when he headed a Barton cross wide from 10 metres.
Newcastle had appeals for a penalty turned down after the break when Lovenkrands was sent tumbling by Anderson before Giggs somehow miscued from eight metres with the goal gaping midway through the second half.
"We are in a better position than we were in on Saturday. We have one game less and we are in the same position with Arsenal and five games left," Ferguson added.
The result moves Newcastle above Aston Villa to ninth on goal difference with 40 points from 33 games.comments