Newcastle United 0 Manchester City 4, 

St James’ Park, KO: 14:00, 19/Dec/21. 

Premier League. 

One thing Manchester City don’t need is a helping hand. Giving them a head start is a fool’s game. They are more than capable of winning of their own accord. So, when they’re gifted an opener by a lack of communication that would make Mike Ashley’s post relegation discussions with Alan Shearer look competent, the omens are never good.

A slick-ish City corner looked to be heading towards harmlessness. On the stretch, João Cancelo floated a cross back toward the six-yard box. For most, attention turned to whether the counter was on. Yet what happened next was baffling.

Ciaran Clark, who’s previous Gallowgate End outing finished after only a handful of minutes, looked set to head away. But, in expectation of Martin Dubravka coming to gather, he dummied and let the ball bounce. It was a fair assumption; a goalkeeping coach of the year 3000 would have struggled to justify a punch rather than a catch. Problematically, Dubravka hadn’t moved. Ruben Dias could scarcely believe his luck. The simplest of headed finishes was his.

And in that moment a monumental task became impossible. Where to attribute blame is a difficult one. Both were woeful, although Dubravka has more credit in the bank, albeit his sloppy pass led to the corner. We’ve come to expect better of him, whereas Clark, well, the less said the better.

It was immaterial really. Less than two hours later, as “Eddie Howe’s Black and White Army” belted out and the Gallowgate flags were flown, the final whistle drew a 4-0 away win to a close. Newcastle barely laid a glove. There is little shame in that mind. As ruthlessly breath-taking as City were as they swept seven past Leeds midweek, this was another type of beauty. There was an ease to it, a sense that they could always notch it up. They now have eight Premier League wins on the spin and a record 34 in a calendar year.

There was another controversial moment where communication went AWOL. On this occasion it was between officials on and off the field. Martin Atkinson failed to award a penalty to United in real time; Craig Pawson was happy not to intervene given all the time in the world.

By that point City were two to the good. Cancelo had easily nipped past Joe Willock and Isaac Hayden – the day’s starting, if ineffective, central midfield pair in Jonjo Shelvey’s injury enforced absence – and fired a shot from the edge of the box. It split United’s centre halves and gave Dubravka no hope.

But it’s very difficult to accept United shouldn’t have had a chance to halve the deficit.

Ryan Fraser raced through, Cancelo snuffed out the danger, but the winger was wiped out by Ederson.  There is little other way of describing it. It’s not that Fraser was going to win the ball back and score but surely, even with all the presidential protection that comes with being a goalkeeper,  they cannot simply slide and take out an opponent?

Curiously, Var did not get involved because Cancelo had won the ball. It’s not clear though how one act justifies the other. Would it have made a difference? Probably not. Is there a conspiracy against Newcastle United? No, that’s just silly. But it was poor. If technology can rule out perfectly good goals because half a toe is offside, surely this is the type of obvious decision it is there for.

United heads didn’t drop. But they couldn’t muster much.

Joelinton was, as he has been in Eddie Howe’s brief reign, at the heart of most things good. It’s difficult to objectively assess the Brazilian’s upturn. There is a danger that so bad was he under the old regime, current performances are over-inflated. But he is the standout player, whatever that means in a piss-poor side. His early daisy cutter had Ederson worried.

If half-time Bovril was consumed amongst hope of Christmas miracle, it quickly became apparent that was not going to happen. City slowly but surely took turned the screw. Death by a thousand paper cuts.

That the third didn’t come until past the hour mark, was due to some Dubravka redemption.  He tipped over a point-blank Gabriel Jesus header before denying Raheem Sterling’s curled effort. The first was a stunning instinctive stop with his right hand as he scrambled to make ground to his left.  That’s the Dubravka we know and love.

It only deferred the inevitable. Oleksandr Zinchenko’s delicious cross was met by an equally dreamy volleyed finish by Riyad Mahrez. The offside flag simply delayed gratification. Var intervened. Three and done. 50 not out for Mahrez as a Citizen.

Not until 80-something minutes in did United have a shot on target. Callum Wilson got up and headed goalward; Ederson was equal to it. Sterling added a late fourth to make it 11 for Pep Guardiola’s side in 180 minutes. Their goal difference disadvantage has been wiped out and the title race is set to be a corker.

Thoughts now turn to upcoming festivities and squad deficiencies. There have been improvements no doubt but there’s a sense Howe still isn’t sure of his best XI. He, like all of us, will hope for new additions and pronto. Unlike most pay cheques, they must come in advance rather than arrears.

For all talk about this being a battle of the Gulf, City will not be worried. You do not, after all, fret about your second cousin’s boyfriend’s GCSE results. There is an obvious gulf in class.

Newcastle’s season will not be defined in weeks like the one just gone. There are definite plus points, none more so than the magnificent sight of St James’ Park free from cheap sporting graffiti for the first time in what feels like an eternity. There is a sense of unity between players, between supporters and the club. There will be no lack of fight. If at times towards the end it felt a training session, that’s understandable. Little point throwing good energy after bad.

What there is though is a lack of quality. Years of neglect and underinvestment. A squad peppered with far too many players lacking top-flight ability. That’s not their fault. But it does mean the most likely outcome is demotion.

SAM DALLING 

FULL TIME REACTIONS 

The best bits of this game were at the beginning and the end. Coming into St James’ Park and seeing it finally free of Ashley’s tat adverts felt like a cleansing experience. And the flags flying in the Gallowgate after Citeh’s 4th as a show of defiance by our support tells you everything you need to know about the club. Unfortunately the rest was a veritable shit sandwich.

Quite was Dubravka was thinking, allowing a ball lobbed across him just 4 yards out, God only knows. But that gave Man C the control they wanted amd they never let their grip relax. Their goals seemed inevitable as they happened. But it took the Manchester blues several years to out a team like this together. It’ll take us more because of the state of club our owners have inherited.

For what it’s worth, I still think we’ll stay up but it’ll need some serious investment. I can’t wait to hear our critics complaining that we’ve bought our Premier League survival come May!

WALLACE WILSON 

Once again, we were architects of our own downfall. For all Miggy and Joelinton’s huffing, puffing and grafting; shoot yourself in the foot (once again) after five minutes and it’s going to be a mountain to climb. We aren’t getting the run of the green at the moment, but we need to give ourselves a platform to stand a chance.

This defeat won’t define our season, and City are better than most, but such defensive naivety is deeply worrying.

CHRIS SHIPMAN 

Tone set by Dubravka and Clark early on. Needless errors and City never looked back. Survival seems a long, long way off.

STEVE WALLWORK

Another 4-0 defeat, but feels like there was more to take away today than at the King Power last week. Man City are a side who can punish even half-mistakes, so more defensive errors were always going to lead to a comfortable afternoon for the visitors.

Someone needs to explain to me exactly what Ryan Fraser has to do to win a penalty in this league. Ederson completely wiped him out and Martin Atkinson quite rightly faced plenty of scrutiny from the stands for his decision-making.

Positives to take away, but we looked worryingly fatigued for the last third of the game, even with rotation. Let’s hope that has more to do Man City making us chase the ball so much rather than burnout. We really were outclassed, but it didn’t feel like that Leicester capitulation.

The encouraging chants for ‘Eddie Howe’s Black and White Army’ and flag-waving at full time will hopefully lift the manager and the players, who will have certainly felt a togetherness in the stadium.

With big games ahead, plenty of positivity will be required.

 ADAM WIDDRINGTON

 What did we expect? The mistakes cost us again and we switched off too often against superior opposition. Would love for them to suffer the misfortune that we seem to get every week. There’s a long way to go but the pressure will grow on the games we are desperate to get something from. I’ll stay optimistic til March. Let’s hope we don’t lose the amazing support from games as it might save us.

EMIL FRANCHI

There may have been positives, it may have been Man City immediately after playing against another of the world’s best teams, but it’s now 20 games to go to pick up around 1.7 points per game having averaged 0.55 per game from the previous 18. It’s also the fact we’ve conceded SO MANY goals. I back Howe, I’m buzzing we’re no longer owned by Ashley, but maybe I need to stop kidding myself we’ll stay up?

Maybe it’s time to start thinking we’ll come back stronger?

 NORMAN RILEY

Outclassed as expected but like Thursday enough to give us some semblance of hope that a similar performance against a lesser team will get us something.

Hard to stomach the gift first goal and the penalty decision as Man City need no help whatsoever.

As long as we keep gifting teams goals we are staying where we are.

SCOTT ROBSON

 We can’t survive giving goals away to better sides. The performance wasn’t bad but errors are so destructive to us and we are making way too many.  Joelinton star man and I never expected to say that ever. Great support at the end which makes you proud to be part of our tribe. We just need a team to warrant the support

 DAVE EDWARDS