From start to finish this was a breathless afternoon at Old Trafford. Manchester United were staring at dropping four points in three days when up stepped Javier Hernández on 90 minutes to slide home a Michael Carrick ball to make it 4-3 and cause a joyous Sir Alex Ferguson to jump into the arms of Mike Phelan, his assistant.
Controversy was a key ingredient of this Boxing Day affair after Mike Dean overruled himself having initially agreed with his assistant that Newcastle's second was offside when it had, in fact, been a Jonny Evans own goal. At the close there was also a disagreement involving Fabricio Coloccini, Rio Ferdinand and John Carver, the Newcastle assistant manager, in which Patrice Evra acted as peace-broker.
After Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young were left out of the squad due to injury and Danny Welbeck because of illness, the contest had begun in a poor way for Ferguson's team.
On four minutes, a Hernández crossfield ball that may have been aimed at Evans found Carrick, whose clumsy touch handed possession to Demba Ba. Newcastle's lone striker in their 4-2-3-1 wandered forward, took a look at the on-running James Perch, then decided to shoot. This was hit to the right of David de Gea but close enough for him to gather or palm away strongly. Taking the latter option, the Spaniard placed it straight into Perch's path, who made it 1-0.
A topsy-turvy half unfolded which ended with Newcastle walking off 2-1 ahead due to the Reds sloppiness and a creative deficit that had also been evident when they had dropped two points at Swansea City on Sunday.
The travelling support certainly enjoyed this opening stanza. Their repertoire included a few verses of "Robin van Persie, he should have been dead" which satirised Ferguson's claim that Ashley Williams's kicking of a ball at the striker's head in the Swansea game had threatened the Dutchman's mortality. They also sang "Pogo if you love the Toon" with more of the tender stuff aimed firmly at Dean when he awarded the Evans own goal after first ruling it offside at the behest of his assistant, Jake Collin.
Danny Simpson's cross-shot had been turned in by Evans, who immediately clasped his head in despair. This may have given the game away because after Collin flagged, perhaps thinking the touch was from an offside Papiss Cissé, Dean, harangued by Newcastle players, eventually consulted his assistant and changed his mind.
This was just before the half hour. Four minutes earlier Evans had equalised. A Robin van Persie free-kick swung in from the right was weakly headed on by Ryan Giggs but Newcastle failed to clear and when Hernández's close range shot was parried by Tim Krul, Evans finished.
When it was time for the second half, Manchester United were first out and as they waited for their counterparts to appear a furious Ferguson could be seen arguing with Dean, the fourth official, Neil Swarbrick, and Collin, regarding the Evans own goal, which made him this season's third player, alongside Rooney and Gareth Bale, to score at both ends.
Whether the Scot will face a Football Association charge for his conduct depends on what Dean includes in his report. What was clearer was the content Ferguson felt 13 minutes into the second half when his side forced their second equaliser. A Van Persie ball was only half-cleared to Evra and when the captain strode forward he unloaded from distance to beat Krul and make it 2-2.
United's players wanted the game to restart as soon as possible with momentum in their favour but it was stymied by a sucker punch that again gave Alan Pardew's team the lead. Gabriel Obertan, formerly of this parish and on as a second-half replacement, moved down the left and rolled the ball across the space in United's area. Instantly, Cissé pulled back his left foot and smacked the finish beyond De Gea.
Newcastle had this latest (and final) lead for only three minutes. Antonio Valencia's delivery from the right found Van Persie and when his fierce first shot was saved by Krul, the rebound was passed back to the Dutchman and this time he made the score 3-3. Having never trailed in the contest, Newcastle were now hanging on – though Sammy Amoebi's shot that rebounded off the post and into De Gea's grateful hands might have secured their fourth.
Instead, Hernández's late winner stole all three points to make it 24 of United's 46 (52%) that have been secured after going behind this season. It ended Newcastle's day on a sour note that was made worse by the sight of Vurnon Anita taken off on a stretcher following a Valencia tackle.