Another bad night for Sam Allardyce, another bad night for Newcastle United, one wonders for how much longer this can go on. There is no shame in losing to Manchester City, for Sven Goran Eriksson has put together a bright, inventive team who moved above Liverpool last night into a Champions League place. But the fact that this was City's first win away from home since the season's opening day at West Ham will be unavoidable to Allardyce's many Tyneside critics. Other statistics will be dredged up to beat the Newcastle manager, the most pertinent being that Newcastle have lost three in a row over Christmas, which is no form to take to Stoke City in the FA Cup on Sunday night.
"No, I don't see Stoke as a defining game," Allardyce said of Sunday in regard to his nine-month tenure at St James' Park. "But I'm not daft enough not to realise that I'm in the results business. I need to win matches, that's clear. And at the end of the day, the pressure still mounts. It mounts on us all and particularly on me. It's a low moment for us all, but we have to stick together. We have lost a game we shouldn't have, but it's three defeats on the trot and again the pressure grows."
The Newcastle owner, Mike Ashley, was not here to see this but the chairman, Chris Mort, was present. Allardyce's sense about Stoke may be more accurate than speculation about his job, because the two men above him are determined not to succumb to football's knee-jerk mentality and both may take some consolation from the absence of the sort of fan unrest that accompanied November's home defeats to Portsmouth and Liverpool.
There was a smattering of booing at half-time and one loud outburst on the final whistle, but there was no concerted chanting. Whether that can be interpreted as backing for Allardyce is hazardous to say but, even if he does not think so, there is a general sense that Stoke is a key moment for Allardyce and the club.
The Cup's meaning here is traditional and current: lose and the season will feel over. Although Allardyce, Shay Given and Alan Smith all mentioned Europe in last night's programme, others will offer a record of one clean sheet in 18 and nine points from the last 12 games.
"Sam is a good manager, he showed that at Bolton and, given time, he'll show that here," said his counterpart Eriksson, who was delighted to see his side move up to fourth. "We have been waiting for that a long time. It was very good. We deserved to win today. We defended very well again that is two matches now. Liverpool at home and Newcastle away and two clean sheets, and that is excellent. We kept the ball, we had good combinations, some very, very good counter-attacks and two very nice goals, so we cannot be anything other than happy, very happy."
Unlike Allardyce, of whose struggles Eriksson said: "The longer you are in this job, you know it will happen to you, it happened to me many times. This is football, you can't always play good football and win. You have tough times, they can be for a few weeks or a few months."
It has been a few months now for Allardyce. At least here, there was some promise, especially before the interval.
For just over half an hour this was about as free and entertaining as Newcastle have been at St James'. Locals have longed for Allardyce to choose round pegs for round holes and the sight of James Milner on the right and Damien Duff on the left pleased those keen for balance. After nine minutes they switched wings, but they soon moved back.
Charles N'Zogbia was as adventurous as a left-back could be, the young Frenchman surging forward when possible and creating a tempo that had the crowd going on a cold, wet night. Unfortunately for N'Zogbia, his jinking run into the City area in the 28th minute was topped off with a weak shot straight at the City goalkeeper, Joe Hart.
Apart from some general territorial dominance, however, that was the main direct threat, Obafemi Martins' erratic display annoying punters and colleagues alike.
City, with Vedran Corluka exhibiting a velvet touch and great awareness in midfield, soaked up what Newcastle had to give and always looked threatening on the break. Their form was not great in general they had won one of their last six but Martin Petrov forced Given into a flying save on 31 minutes and seven minutes later, for all Newcastle's pressure, it was no surprise when Elano gave City the lead with his fifth goal in the Premier League.
It was a fine one, Elano starting a move with a slick back-heel to Stephen Ireland. He moved it swiftly forward to Darius Vassell, who laid it back to Elano. The Brazilian had not much to aim for but he beat Given with a low diagonal shot from the right side of the Newcastle area.
Just after that Elano went over the top on Abdoulaye Faye Allardyce said Elano's intent was to "do" Faye but a yellow card was shown when Allardyce wanted red.
The card Newcastle played at half-time was Michael Owen for Martins and it seemed an ace when, 30 seconds after the re-start, N'Zogbia's shrewd pass set Owen running away from Richard Dunne. Owen was about to get his first touch and his career is so comic-book it felt like this was an equaliser on the way. But Hart stuck out a boot and diverted Owen's shot for a corner.
After that Owen was lively, bringing some optimism for Stoke, but the chances Newcastle created were bitty. City sat even further back and 14 minutes from the end broke away again. Two substitutes, Kelvin Etuhu and Gelson Fernandes, combined, Etuhu controlling Corluka's lofted pass and sliding the ball back to Fernandes. Ten yards out the Swiss swept the ball beyond Given.
A lot of Geordies walked out at that stage but the vast majority stayed. They are trying to like the team, but results make that difficult and pride will not be enhanced today when Joey Barton makes his latest appearance in a courtroom in Liverpool.
Goals: Elano (38) 0-1; Fernandes (76) 0-2.
Newcastle United (4-4-2) Given; Beye, Taylor, Cacapa, N'Zogbia; Milner, Butt, Faye (Emre, 73), Duff (Enrique, 64); Viduka, Martins (Owen, h-t). Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Rozehnal.
Manchester City (4-1-4-1) Hart; Onuoha, Richards, Dunne, Ball; Hamann; Ireland (Fernandes, 75) , Elano (Etuhu, 71), Corluka, Petrov; Vassell (Bianchi, 88). Substitutes not used: Isaksson (gk), Garrido.
Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).
Booked: Manchester City Elano, Vassell, Fernandes.
Man of the match: Elano.
The Pain Game: FA Cup countdown, page 53
Newcastle's last 10 Premier League matches:
10 Nov Sunderland 1 Newcastle 1
24 Nov Newcastle 0 Liverpool 3
1 Dec Blackburn 3 Newcastle 1
5 Dec Newcastle 1 Arsenal 1
8 Dec Newcastle 2 Birm'ham 1
15 Dec Fulham 0 Newcastle 1
23 Dec Newcastle 2 Derby 2
26 Dec Wigan 1 Newcastle 0
29 Dec Chelsea 2 Newcastle 1
2 Jan Newcastle 0 Man City 2Reuse content