By Chief Sports Writer, Marley Anderson

Javier Hernandez was once again Manchester United’s hero as his last-gasp strike sent his side seven points clear at the top of the Premier League. There won’t be many games this season that top this one in terms of action and controversy, as the Red Devils prevailed 4-3 after coming from behind three times.

Newcastle were magnificent throughout, despite missing many first team players and never stopped attacking the home side, who were clearly rattled by Newcastle’s spirit. James Perch, an own goal from Jonny Evans and Papiss Cisse gave the Geordies the lead three times, but equalisers from Evans, Patrice Evra and Robin Van Persie allowed Hernandez to steal the show late on.

The Magpies headed into the game without Jonas Gutierrez after the Argentine winger withdrew due to injury and Gael Bigirimana stepped into the starting line-up. Marveaux joined Senegal pair Ba and Papiss Cisse up front and the combination certainly worked for Newcastle. Wayne Rooney – so consistent at scoring against Newcastle – was missing for Man United after being injured in training on Christmas Day.

Alan Pardew had seemingly advised his team to show no fear at the home of the 19-time Premier League champions and his troops responded, attacking with menace and intent from the first whistle and surprising the home side with their bravery. Even without Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa – Newcastle’s most creative players – the visitors had plenty to worry Ferguson’s side.

Within four minutes, the opening goal had arrived and from arguably the most unlikely player on the pitch. Perch – who had never previously scored for Newcastle – showed a striker’s instinct to follow up on Ba’s parried shot and tapped home to send the travelling Toon Army into raptures.

The greasy surface had troubled dodgy Spanish goalkeeper David De Gea and Ba was out to cause problems. The former West Ham hitman was firing in shots from all angles, hoping for the goalkeeper to spill more towards his lime-green clad teammates.

Ferguson’s side tried to respond and the match turned into something resembling a basketball match, with both sides taking turns to attack each other. Hernandez almost found a colleague with a cross, but the equaliser came from a set piece. Van Persie’s delivery from the right wasn’t cleared properly and after Hernandez was foiled by a smart save from Tim Krul, Evans reacted first and prodded level.

Then came the controversy though, as Evans was involved in the goal which restored Newcastle’s lead. A clearance fell to Danny Simpson and as he drove across goal, Evans deflected past De Gea and the Magpies thought they were back in front. The linesman clearly wasnt sure whether the deflection came off Evans or Cisse (who was standing in an offside position) and initially disallowed it, only for the correct decision to be settled upon after consultation.

Marveaux was inches away from giving Newcastle a two-goal lead minutes later, but his excellent free-kick smacked back off the crossbar with De Gea well beaten.

Ferguson was predictably livid at the referee coming to the right decision and decided to make his argument public when he berated Mike Dean in front of the Old Trafford crowd. Plenty of pulled faces and arm flailing later and the pensioner took his seat for the start of the second period.

After Evans had netted in the first half, just like he had in the reverse fixture in October, it was a similar story when Patrice Evra found the net against Newcastle for the second time this season. Evra picked up a loose ball on the edge of the area and drilled low across the greasy surface and into Krul’s bottom corner.

Newcastle simply didn’t wilt though and ten minutes later they were ahead again. Substitute and former Man United winger Gabriel Obertan burst down the left wing and pulled back invitingly for Cisse, who whipped home his third goal of the season – and his second against the Red Devils this campaign.

As both sides began to tire in their search of a winner or equaliser, Pardew threw on both Shola and Sammy Ameobi to try and win the contest, but neither could stop Man United’s third equaliser. This time, it was the “lucky to be alive” Van Persie who capitalised on a ricocheting ball to drill home and save his side’s bacon again.

The goal finally seemed to have an impact on the visitors and slowly they were being penned in their own half, fighting to hang on to a point. Hernandez and Van Persie were finding space inside the box but the finishing touch just wouldn’t come for the home side. Hernandez headed straight at Krul when it looked easier to score, Van Persie connected with a looping pass to prod inches wide of goal and the Mexican striker almost won it with a diving header that somehow evaded Krul’s far post.

In the midst of it all, Sammy Ameobi almost won it against all odds for Newcastle. Breaking away after one of the home side’s attacks, the younger brother cut inside and hit a weak effort that rolled agonisingly past De Gea and back into the Spaniard’s arms via the post.

However a fourth potential winner wasn’t to come for Newcastle but there was to be a winner and it came with two seconds of normal time remaining. To rub salt into the wound it was Toon native Michael Carrick who was the architect, sweeping a ball into the area where Hernandez was waiting. Krul rushed out but “Chicharito”’s first time effort found the bottom corner and sent the 75,000 strong crowd crazy as they extended their lead at the top of the Premier League in the faces of a desperately unfortunate Newcastle side.