THERE was a whiff of complacency in Newcastle United's performance at Bolton Wanderers and Chris Hughton will do well to remove that nasty smell from his dressing room as quickly as possible.
This was not what we have come to expect from this Newcastle United team, which only makes it harder to get your head round why it happened.
It was an awful performance which was as bad as anything served up in that miserable relegation campaign, yet it was as surprising as it was dreadful.
Have United’s players been guilty of assuming they are good enough to go through the motions and still pick up results in the Premier League?
Had they begun to believe their own hype after that famous victory over Arsenal at the Emirates?
Only they will know the real answer, but there was certainly more than just a suggestion of that at the weekend.
For the first time in months, they have genuinely disappointed their supporters with a performance which never got out of second gear in any department. There were some terrible individual mistakes which contributed to their own demise, although it would be pointless to pick on individuals because, with the exception of Andy Carroll, they were all as bad as each other. Everybody struggled and everybody made elementary mistakes, just some more than others and in more dangerous areas of the pitch.
It says everything about the nature of the defeat that, of the five goals Bolton put past Tim Krul, only one was down to their excellent play rather than Newcastle’s blunders.
That came five minutes into the second half, as Kevin Davies and Johan Elmander combined with some intricate passing to slide through the centre of a packed United defence, Elmander putting Krul before rounding him and rolling the ball into the net.
That killed the visitors off, but the real damage had been done in the first half when they had already gifted their hosts two goals as a previously assured looking defence crumbled under the pressure of an over-ran midfield.
If there is one crumb of comfort it is that Sunderland have recovered from far worse this season, bouncing back in style from the 5-1 derby defeat the Magpies inflicted on them just a few weeks ago.
The Black Cats have notched two wins and a draw since that debacle threatened to derail their season and Newcastle can only hope they have similarly impressive powers of recovery. To be fair, they have done so before, both this season and last. Indeed, one of the outstanding features of Hughton’s reign has been the spirit the squad has shown whenever it is confronted with adversity.
However, the task ahead of them could not be any tougher. Chelsea may have lost their last two Premier League games to spark talk of a mini-crisis at Stamford Bridge, but there still is not a more difficult home game in the division than when the reigning champions visit. That is precisely what Newcastle have to look forward to next weekend when they look to launch their recovery.
It is easy to forget Newcastle might have taken the lead in the first minute had Kevin Nolan picked a pass to an unmarked Carroll in the area. Instead, the United skipper, having done well to dispossess Paul Robinson, went for glory and his shot sailed high and wide.
Newcastle were behind after 18 minutes and they only had themselves to blame. Jose Enrique dithered on the ball, allowed himself to be squeezed by Bolton’s pressing and lost it to Lee. Nolan appeared to have cleared up the danger, but when he instinctively stuck out an arm after mis-controlling the ball in the area, referee Howard Webb pointed to the spot. Up stepped Davies, who sent Krul the wrong way from 12 yards.
And still the mistakes kept happening, poor passes constantly inviting pressure from the home side who gratefully doubled their advantage. A Matthew Taylor free-kick had rattled the bar with Krul beaten, but Newcastle still managed to mess things up as they tried to clear the rebound. Fabricio Coloccini could have whacked it down field, but Danny Simpson got in the way, only to lose the ball, allowing Lee to finish past Krul. There were still 40 minutes left to play when Elmander made it three after the break, although Newcastle did finally improve and, to their credit they did at least have a stab at a fightback, Carroll pulling one back when he made the most of a lucky ricochet off Stuart Holden and finished past Jussi Jaaskelainen. It was Newcastle’s first shot on target and there was a brief period of pressure from the visitors, which almost saw Jonas Gutierrez create a second, only for his cross to evade both Nolan and Carroll.
Sadly the defence continued to creak every time Bolton counter-attacked and Elmander got his second after shrugging off the attention of Coloccini. Coloccini response to that mistake was to elbow the striker minutes later, rightly punished with a red card.
Peter Lovenkrands might have pulled another one back, but he shot straight at Jaaskelainen, while Mike Williamson and Carroll also went close in the closing stages, but it was Davies who completed the scoring with another penalty after Enrique was harshly judged to have tripped the striker in the area.