Football can be a cruel business, particularly for those who refuse to help themselves.
Shorn of so many important players through injury, indiscipline and their dreadful recent performances in the transfer market, Newcastle United knew going to Stamford Bridge to face a Chelsea side on the crest of a wave was always going to be difficult.
In keeping with the rest of their 2014, they made it that much harder for themselves.
When the Magpies lost October’s derby, their determined response was impressive.
The next league game, at home to Jose Mourinho’s men, witnessed a 2-0 win which began a purple patch which continued until Boxing Day. That was six and a half weeks ago but it feels like an eternity.
Where once there was defiance, now there is only resignation – and not, like Joe Kinnear’s, the sort of resignation celebrated on Tyneside.
In the absence of a replacement for Yohan Cabaye, others have needed to up their game.
The most creative player, Hatem Ben Arfa, has gone missing for two matches (although he did look interested for the first 20 minutes here) and one of the best performers in the first half of the season Vurnon Anita has retreated into his shell. Fabricio Coloccini’s knee injury is taking more than twice as long to heal as first thought and the man who wore his captain’s armband on Saturday, Moussa Sissoko, made one of the day’s crucial mistakes.
Meanwhile, in the Stamford Bridge away end, Newcastle’s supporters made their own fun.
With the game long since gone they booed Ashley Cole and Demba Ba as they ran towards them on the touchline, turned, and headed back to the applauding Chelsea supporters.
Boo, cheer, boo, cheer, the mood changing each time with the direction. It was harmless, knockabout fun.
All game long Newcastle’s supporters had been running down Chelsea employees all day. With tongues firmly in cheeks, Mourinho, Ba, David Luiz and others were compared unfavourably to their opposite numbers.
Mourinho is apparently, “Just a s*** Alan Pardew”. It lightened the mood among the more serious chants imploring Mike Ashley to sell up. It was the sort of atmosphere you tend to get from supporters of a promoted team who know they are only likely to be in the Premier League for a season and determined to make the most of it.
When the gallows humour subsided, Chelsea’s fans had the last laugh. “You’re worse than Sunderland!” they sang.
Judging by his post-match comments, Pardew’s tactical masterplan for Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday will be crossing his fingers and asking his coaches to bring lucky rabbit’s feet and four-leaf clovers along.
It is a damming indictment of the management of a club who, on Boxing Day, were serious contenders to qualify for Europe.
Europe, eh? As if.
For 45 minutes on Saturday Newcastle were okay, enjoying more possession than you might expect at Petr Cech’s end of the field. Okay is not enough, though, against Chelsea – not even close with Eden Hazard on this form.
Mourinho is almost as good as Newcastle’s away fans when it comes to making amusingly ridiculous statements – even after his team went top he was painting them as third favourites for the title.
Yet it was nigh-on impossible to argue with his assessment Hazard is the best young footballer on the planet right now.
The Belgian opened the scoring in the 28th minute after a good one-two with Branislav Ivanovic and brilliant skill.
Newcastle more than played their part in helping him to a hat-trick.
It was surprising to see Davide Santon as a holding midfielder when Sissoko was in front of him and Sylvain Marveaux on the bench – although the substitute’s pathetic late shot into the side netting hardly pressed his case for inclusion.
Yet Santon produced the pass of the game to put Sissoko through. The Frenchman’s touch was too heavy and Cech came out to save.
Another elephantine touch, by Anita, cost Newcastle possession and Chelsea broke from the corner.
From there it was all brilliance, Eto’o’s backheel to return the ball for Hazard to finish – a reminder of why he was once regarded as the world’s best of any age, but the striker ought to instead have been restarting play after Sissoko’s equaliser.
Mathieu Debuchy backed off Hazard too much but had been limping heavily for a good 10 minutes after a bad fall. Six minutes later, Pardew substituted him. The game had been lost by then.
Debuchy’s determination to play on was laudable, but Pardew needed to be tougher. At the very least he could have swapped him with Santon for a few minutes, rather than leaving him against the outstanding Hazard with only Ben Arfa in front of him for support.
Still, it was nothing like the helping hand they gave for the third goal.
Luiz almost scored it, Tim Krul’s fall under his over-hit long ball summing up Newcastle’s day.
Oscar could not catch the ball before it crossed the byline just wide of the goal.
If that was bad luck, Hazard’s hat-trick came via rank bad defending.
While Frank Lampard was delivering a dreadful corner, Debuchy’s replacement Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa was hauling Eto’o down at the far post. Darren Cann is England’s best linesman and with a clear view, he was never going to miss that.
Yanga-Mbiwa can consider himself very lucky not to have been red-carded having been booked minutes earlier for a poor foul on Hazard.
So while Pardew was bemoaning his injuries after the game it is worth remember that no one is as adept at handicapping Newcastle United as they themselves are.