We knew that there would be days like this back in the Premier League. It doesn’t make it any easier to digest when it happens though, especially when the pain and anguish comes courtesy of a table-bottoming side.
Is it a coincidence that our worst displays of the season have both come on long away trips on a Sunday? That’s three such fixtures already. Although the draw at Anfield was welcomed positively, I didn’t think we played that well and were a bit lucky not to get a pasting.
The fact that it all unfolded live on TV of course was typical.
But hats off to Newcastle for the win – fully deserved. That said, in many respects it was a fluke – six efforts on target and six goals – a very rare conversion rate. One player scoring four goals in a match – even rarer.
Norwich also gave them a massive helping hand with tactical naivety from the top and individual clangers all over the pitch.
Before kick-off, I feared a reaction from Newcastle after their own six-goal shellacking at the Etihad.
That match was spookily similar to what unfolded for us on Sunday – very competitive and open game, but riddled with defensive errors and a world class display of finishing from one individual on the opposition’s side.
Post-match, Alex Neil’s face did carry a bit of an unfamiliar and uncomfortable bearing – not ‘bulldog chewing a wasp’ territory but certainly a bit less colour in his cheeks than normal.
It must be the heaviest defeat of his managerial career and clearly would have been a dagger to his professional pride. But all the best managers have suffered that kind of mauling at some stage. It was only a matter of time for him.
Thankfully, unlike the endlessly moaning Mourinho or whinging Wenger, he didn’t pass the buck onto officials, the media and Uncle Tom Cobley. Despite being a bitter pill, he was honest enough to know that the fault was with himself and his players.
Mixed in with the shock at the score line must have been some personal embarrassment at one or two uncharacteristic tactical errors by himself, from which I have no doubt he will learn.
Back to back defeats is an unwelcome and brand new sensation for our track-suited leader.
Our defence was poor undeniably (cue the usual mass online hysteria afterwards), but the whole team gave a talented and very expensively assembled Geordie foreign legion far too much space to play their football on the sacred turf of St James’ Park.
That said, on the hour City were in charge, close to an equaliser and you could sense the anxiety of the Geordie faithful from 250-odd miles away.
Neil’s decision to go for it by swapping Alex Tettey for Wes was a brave one with half an hour still to go but ultimately it was a blunder as Newcastle, once more, found the time and space to recapture the momentum.
It did bring to mind the gung-ho accusations of early last season when Neil Adams had the “as long as we score more than the opposition” philosophy. That was quickly exposed then and is even more of a dangerous game to be playing when the quality and stakes are so much greater in the top tier.
Yet considering what’s been achieved in less than a year by Team Neil, I think us fans have to give him due slack as he learns his trade at the highest level and, lest we forget, still at such a young age.
We can be sure that he will adapt his thinking accordingly. At least, you’d hope so with Arsenal and Man City looming on the immediate horizon.
Unlike many, I don’t subscribe to the wholesale changes panic reaction to such a hammering. Tweaking for sure is in order, but for me it’s up to essentially the same personnel to dig in, work hard and show that they can handle the big time.
On the electronic terraces, it’s going to be another week of expert armchair tacticians and ‘told you so’ merchants – plus ca change.
OK, I know it’s many of the same faces who got mullered at Man City and lashed at Liverpool in the Hughton years. We may not have the strongest defence in the league but until any future transfer window machinations, we have to back and not barrack individuals.
Despite the shock of being on the wrong end of a spanking such as on Sunday, it’s a time for cool heads and no tantrums behind the scenes.
With lessons to be learnt this week, it’s worth pointing out that after their hammering in Manchester, Steve McClaren did not make wholesale changes to his defence and kept faith in those responsible.
I’d say that the Newcastle boss and players have shown the right way to respond to adversity in the maelstrom of fan meltdown.
I expect Alex Neil and his boys to do likewise on Saturday.