sp-584manu

Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez of Manchester United protest to Referee Lee Probert during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Manchester United. ((Clive Brunskill/Getty Images))

Manchester United took another significant step towards the Premier League title with a 0-0 draw at Newcastle on Tuesday.

United now have 70 points, seven ahead of nearest rivals Arsenal but having played one match more.

United would feel they were on the wrong end of some controversial decisions by referee Lee Probert, none more so than in stoppage time when Javier Hernandez fell when clear under a tackle from Danny Simpson.

Probert decided Hernandez had dived and showed the Mexican striker a yellow card. On another day it might have been a penalty.

Newcastle had an excellent first half but came under severe pressure after the break and did well to hang on to a point which takes them to ninth spot and well clear of the relegation zone.

In truth United were never at their most fluent and clinical and Wayne Rooney, Hernandez and in particular Ryan Giggs all missed chances they might normally have taken.

Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul saved well from Rooney early in the first half but the best United chance fell to Giggs in the 69th minute, placing a shot wide when it looked easier to score.

Shola Ameobi went close for Newcastle in the sixth minute and Peter Lovenkrands headed over in the 61st but that was as good as it got for the home side.

Stephen Ireland came on for his Newcastle debut in the 73rd minute and Michael Owen came on for United in a hail of booing from Newcastle fans.

On this evidence United are not racing towards Sir Alex Ferguson's 12th Premier League championship in their customary style but it was a useful point gained by perseverance.

Newcastle manager Alan Pardew admitted the Hernandez incident was the major talking point.

Pardew said: "Danny stuck out a leg which is a dangerous thing to do in such circumstances but he did not touch Hernandez.

"I believe Hernandez dived and all praise to the referee because it was not an easy decision to make.

"I must admit my heart sank because I thought for a split-second we were not going to get anything.

"I thought Peter Lovenkrands should have had a penalty, but that was not given either. We started well and I was a bit disappointed we did not get an early goal.

"Manchester United are a fantastic team and we were hanging on a bit at the end so I have reason to be proud of my players and the fans who backed them all the way."

United boss Ferguson said: "It was a clear penalty and it was an insult that he booked Hernandez. I thought the referee had a good game but it was still an insult to book him.

"Ryan Giggs had a great chance but Newcastle were strong in the first 20 minutes and I was happy with our performance in the second half.

"Chelsea have three home games coming up in a row so we have to see what happens with them, but the Arsenal game coming up is massive."