The battle to retain their title may have been lost but Manchester City are not yet ready to declare a ceasefire. A week tomorrow they will limp into Old Trafford 15 points behind Manchester United but it will not be a place for coronations or guards of honour.
"We played well but maybe it is too late," the City manager, Roberto Mancini, reflected. "I think it is impossible we will win the title but it is important we finish well."
Mancini had been asked if displays like these frustrated him, because they emphasised that the gap between the two halves of Manchester should have been narrower than this.
"I am frustrated because we lost so many crucial players to injury at crucial times," he said.
The most important of those injury victims has been Vincent Kompany, whom his manager calculated had been absent for 60 days. Although much to Mancini's anger, he had played for Belgium against Macedonia in midweek, this was his first game back for his club since Stoke City had been beaten in the FA Cup back in January.
City had responded to the loss of their captain by dropping seven points in their next three matches. Had they not done so, the title challenge would still be alive. Here, Kompany marked his return with a back-heeled flick that diverted Gareth Barry's drive past the Newcastle goalkeeper, Rob Elliot, for City's third. When he was substituted 17 minutes later, Kompany walked past his manager without acknowledging him. That may have signified something or nothing.
Beyond the stadium, the Pennines stood out, heavy with snow, but this was a game that looked and felt like it belonged in the middle of May. Mostly, it was end-of-the-season stuff.
When the fixtures were released this was one that would have fluttered its eyes and invited Sky Television to broadcast it at 4pm on a Sunday, but only in the cup competitions are Manchester City and Newcastle's season still alive. For Mancini, much – perhaps too much – hangs on next month's FA Cup semi-final while for Newcastle there is Thursday's Europa League quarter-final with Benfica – and perhaps there is still relegation to be avoided.
To those in the press room at St James' Park who heard Alan Pardew declare after their victory over Stoke, "that is us done" as far as relegation was concerned, this might come as a surprise. Now only three points clear of the drop, the Newcastle manager attempted to beat a tactical retreat, claiming: "I don't think you are ever out of it until you get 40 points."
That statement would have drawn a wry smile on Wearside from those who recalled that in 1997 Sunderland were relegated with precisely that number of points. Yesterday, Newcastle were every bit as feeble as Sunderland had been against Manchester United earlier in the day – which is to say they were frequently abysmal. The scouting reports sent to Lisbon would have given the Benfica manager, Jorge Jesus, a restful night.
Until Carlos Tevez broke through five minutes from the interval, this was a match that was played in a desultory fag-end-of-a-season way, enlivened only by a dreadful miss from Barry and a breakaway that, but for some smart goalkeeping from Joe Hart, would have seen Papiss Cissé give Newcastle, who were missing half-a-dozen first-choice players, an unlikely lead.
The journey from Tyneside to Manchester has long been a mournful one. It was 1972 when Newcastle last overcame United in their own lair, and since 1984 they have only once won in the blue half of Manchester. The fact that Elliot was warned for time-wasting when the game was a mere 38 minutes old suggested they did not travel in expectation of anything more than a goalless draw.
The chance of that disappeared with a fabulous diagonal cross from Gael Clichy that swished across the face of Elliot's goal. Of the two Argentinians who raced to meet it at the far post, the sprint was won by Tevez, who has now scored seven times in his last six matches for City.
Any thoughts Newcastle might have had of rescuing this match disappeared on the stroke of half-time. Samir Nasri, whose performance made him unrecognisable from the sullen figure who has sulked through most of the season, skipped past Gabriel Obertan, who astonishingly was once thought good enough for Manchester United. His pass set up David Silva and that, realistically, was that.
For a team that had, rightly, protested long and loud about Callum McManaman's tackle on Massadio Haidara, Newcastle now dished it out, with Yohan Cabaye slicing down Tevez, and Jonas Gutierrez appearing to kick out at Nasri. They were the tactics of a team hopelessly outclassed.
It was emphasised by the champions' fourth goal, a driving run from Yaya Touré that was topped off with a fierce shot that Elliot somehow got his arm to. He was lucky it was not torn off by the impact.Reuse content