LONDON — Manchester United handed the initiative back to Manchester City in the English Premier League title race on Wednesday, losing 3-0 at Newcastle on a night its former goalkeeper Tim Howard scored a freak goal in Everton's loss to Bolton.
Newcastle condemned United to a second defeat in four days, with Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye grabbing superb goals either side of halftime and Phil Jones scoring a late own goal to heap more misery on Alex Ferguson's side.
United was three points behind City, which routed Liverpool 3-0 on Tuesday, and only three ahead of Tottenham, which had a game in hand.
"It's not a time to panic," Ferguson said. "We have the patience and experience to cope with that. Losing at this time of the year, we don't want it, but we need to get the show on the road in terms of the run-in, particularly in March and April."
Howard became the fourth goalkeeper to score in the Premier League when the United States international's long clearance from inside his own area bounced over opposite number Adam Bogdan and into the Bolton net.
"It's not a nice place to be and embarrassing," Howard said of Bogdan. "I feel for him. I've been beaten before by a goalkeeper and it's quite awful."
Bolton had the last laugh, however, with David Ngog equalizing in the 67th and England defender Gary Cahill — who is discussing personal terms over a move to Chelsea — snatching the winner 12 minutes from time to lift the team off the bottom of the standings.
United's defeat at St. James' Park was the latest in a string of shock results among the league's front-runners over the festive period, with City, Chelsea and Arsenal also losing in recent weeks to keep the title race bubbling.
Newcastle was full value for its win, though, with Ba causing United's defense all sorts of problems in his last league game before heading off to the African Cup of Nations with Senegal.
His goal, a sublime hooked volley after running onto Shola Ameobi's flick-on in the 33rd minute, was his 15th of the campaign and left him two goals behind Arsenal striker Robin van Persie in the scoring charts.
It breathed new life into the hosts, who were overrun by United early on, and Cabaye made it 2-0 by curling a sumptuous free kick into the top corner from 30 yards (meters) in the 47th.
"The story of the game is they had two fantastic goals which put them in the driving seat and they weren't going to lose it," Ferguson said.
Jones was physically dominated by Ba and Ameobi all night and his miserable night was complete when he stooped to block a long clearance by Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul, only to see the ball deflect into his own net off his knee.
"We won because we controlled the game in terms of what we wanted to do. We would not let them play. Physically and aerially we had an advantage and capitalized on that," said Newcastle manager Alan Pardew, whose side stayed seventh but closed to within a point of Liverpool.
"We beat the champions 3-0 and probably deserved that scoreline."
United's season doesn't get any easier — its next match is an FA Cup third-round game at City on Sunday.
Howard joined fellow American Brad Friedel, Peter Schmeichel and Paul Robinson in the list of goalkeepers to score in the Premier League since 1992, but he couldn't keep the goals out at the other end as Bolton climbed two places to 18th with a crucial win in stormy conditions at Goodison Park.
"I was happy to score but disappointed with the way it turned out," said Howard, who was playing his 250th club match in England.
The fierce wind played its part in Howard's goal as the ball picked up pace as it bounced and was blown over Bogdan, who was standing at the edge of his six-yard box.
It was a disappointing way for U.S. forward Landon Donovan to mark his return to the Everton team after clinching a two-month loan deal from the Los Angeles Galaxy.