If Newcastle's final eight games are to become "a test of our resilience", as their manager Alan Pardew argued after Stoke romped to their biggest win since 2006, their capitulation to the FA Cup semi-finalists pointed to a fraught final two months. It was the sort of embarrassment which, in a good dressing-room, makes players keen to atone as soon as possible. Newcastle's first chance does not come until 2 April when they receive Wolverhampton in what must be billed, after Saturday's results, as a relegation six-pointer.
Pardew, who inherited a side on the slide and was hardly helped by owner Mike Ashley's readiness to bank £35m for Andy Carroll without allowing him to line up a replacement, tried to accentuate some barely discernable positives. "A feature of the season has been that the team have responded when they've needed to. We've got some characters in there," he said, statements to make one wonder why such attributes were invisible against Stoke. "There were some words said by the players afterwards that were spot-on, I thought. I think we all know where it went wrong."
With hindsight, Pardew may accept that the mistakes were not confined to his players and that his decision to start with Sol Campbell was flawed. Anyone who saw the former England defender struggle at the Britannia Stadium with Arsenal might have thought twice about restoring the 36-year-old to defence. He was chosen to combat Stoke's aerial power. Not only did he fail in that regard, but his lack of pace was exposed and he was one whose loss of concentration handed Stoke the initiative immediately after half-time.
Stoke's manager, Tony Pulis, had been concerned his players might be short of energy after their Cup exploits. By such logic Newcastle should have been freshness personified. Instead, substitute Shane Ferguson, 19, was almost alone in looking like he wanted to be there and Pardew claimed their lack of action had been a factor. "We hadn't had a game for 14 days and they'd just played a quarter-final. Now we have another fortnight with no game and people going all over the place to play internationals. We might not have some back until the Thursday before Wolves. We have to be right for that game because the bottom of the table is just mad. We're too close for comfort and we have to get over the line as quickly as we can."
Pardew's captain, Kevin Nolan, was "devastated" for the fans who made the trek to the Potteries. "I can only apologise," he said. "We'd like to put this right straight way but now we have a two-week break which is incredible considering we played four or five games over Christmas. It's really weird and needs to be looked at."
When they last trailed 4-0, Newcastle retaliated to hold Arsenal. This time, Stoke, leading by Jon Walters' fine header, did not have to work hard for further goals by Jermaine Pennant, Danny Higginbotham and Ricardo Fuller. The win was as vital as it was emphatic for Pulis' unfairly maligned team given that they face Tottenham and Chelsea in the next two matches.
Scorers: Stoke Walters 28, Pennant 46, Higginbotham 49, Fuller 90. Subs: Stoke Pugh 6 (Etherington, 60), Whitehead (Pennant, 80), Fuller (Jones, 88). New Ferguson 8 (Enrique, 23); Ranger 5 (Lovenkrands, 61); Gutierrez 5 (Campbell, 66). Booked: Stoke Etherington New Tiote. Man of match Pennant Rating 7 Poss Stoke 40% New 60% Attempts on target Stoke 6 Newcastle 9 Ref L Mason (Lancs) Att 27,505.