It was just like the old days at St James' Park last night. The bad old days. Was it really only on Thursday night that the Toon Army's footsoldiers in Palermo stood in the Renzo Barbera Stadium proudly proclaiming: "We are top of the League"? Back on home ground, the popular chant at the final whistle was that old favourite from Newcastle United's days of second-level strife: "Sack the Board".
There was even a mass demonstration outside the main entrance after another pitiful, painfully toothless Premiership performance left the leaders of Uefa Cup Group H second from bottom of their domestic League. "We want Shepherd out," the restless natives bayed. Not that the message reached the ears of Freddy Shepherd. The Newcastle chairman was in Spain, nursing his sick wife.
His club are hardly in the best of condition, cushioned from the bottom of the Premiership only by Charlton's inferior goal-difference after Danny Webber's header midway through the second half earned Sheffield United their first success on Tyneside since 1979 and their first away win in the Premiership since 1994. It was a deserved victory for Neil Warnock's Blades, who climb out of the bottom three, and a thoroughly merited defeat for Glenn Roeder's Magpies, who have gained just two points from their last seven matches and won just once in six Premiership games in their one-time home fortress.
As yet, there have been no calls for Roeder's head but that could quickly change if his players fail to arrest their decline at the City of Manchester Stadium next Saturday. Their next Premiership fixture after that is away to Arsenal.
The beguiling thing for Roeder, and for the Toon Army, is that Newcastle are unbeaten in eight European matches this season. The manager made six changes to the side who won 1-0 in Palermo on Thursday, drafting in Steve Harper, Stephen Carr, Celestine Babayaro, Damien Duff, Scott Parker and Giuseppe Rossi.
The fresh pairs of legs made a difference, though not for the best. Only once in 90 minutes did Newcastle manage to unsettle the visitors and, even then, it was doubtful whether Charles N'Zogbia was shooting rather than crossing when the finger-tips of Paddy Kenny helped his left-wing delivery on to the top of the bar in the 23rd minute.
Newcastle struggled to cope with Sheffield United's high-tempo, high-energy approach - even after Roeder responded to the boos that greeted the half-time whistle with further changes, replacing N'Zogbia and Nicky Butt with Nolberto Solano and Emre Belezoglu. In fact, Warnock's Blades were more incisive after the interval.
That they were needling their hosts was clear to see when the bustling Rob Hulse was subjected to a head-butt by Craig Moore, who was fortunate that neither Steve Bennett nor his assistants spotted the off-the- ball incident in the 54th minute. Punishment was meted 14 minutes later, though, when Nick Montgomery skipped past Emre and crossed from the right edge of the Newcastle penalty area for Webber to beat Harper with a diving header.
It could have been worse for Newcastle. Had Alan Quinn's shot bounced off the other side of the post in the closing stages, Newcastle would have been bottom, equal on goal difference with Charlton.
"I don't feel under pressure," a defiant Roeder insisted in the pressroom afterwards. "I don't fear for my job. I'd be lying if I said I didn't hear the chants. Of course I heard them. The players heard them as well. But - and I say that in capital letters - the responsibility for results is mine and nobody else's."Reuse content