Sometimes all it takes is a card to cheer you up at Christmas. A few delivered by Martin Atkinson allowed Newcastle United to spend Boxing Day the way it ought to be, taking it easy.
The Magpies started in a post-Christmas stupor and ended the game at walking pace. In between time they blitzed poor Stoke City.
Few of Newcastle’s 200 Premier League home wins can have been achieved after such a lacklustre opening 40 minutes.
With Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and Liverpool dropping points, Newcastle made up ground in the race for Europe and left plenty in the tank for Sunday’s visit of Arsenal.
They hit the woodwork twice, had a Loic Remy penalty saved and two strong spot-kick appeals turned down, yet managed five goals.
Remy and Papiss Cisse ended barren runs, and Moussa Sissoko got through 90 minutes without the booking which would have seen him suspended at the weekend.
It was not a day to judge either in-form side, thanks to three manic minutes at the end of the first half.
Until Atkinson sent off Glenn Whelan and Marc Wilson, Newcastle had been alarmingly lethargic.
Ben Arfa let fly with a shot which did not quite curl inside the post.
He tried twice more, seconds either side of Remy’s second goal – only to hit the frame on each occasion.
Yoan Gouffran’s long-ranger was weak and wide, then he dwelt on Remy’s brilliant turn and pass.
An under-pressure Mathieu Debuchy ran out of space to cross Ben Arfa’s excellent ball, while Remy’s touch let him down when played in by Yohan Cabaye.
The malaise was not only at the sharp end.
Mike Williamson’s excellent sliding tackle on Jonathan Walters was nearly wasted when Sissoko tried to dribble the ball out of his own area.
When it came back, Debuchy was fortunate not to turn it into his net.
The right-back breathed another sigh of relief when Tim Krul beat Peter Crouch and Williamson to his poor backpass.
The longer time went on, the more Newcastle were pushing their luck until Oussama Assaidi curled in from just inside the area.
It ought to have been the signal for Stoke to take control – instead the wheels came off.
After 34 minutes Whelan left his foot in fouling Sissoko, clattered into Cabaye and kicked the ball away to guarantee his caution.
So the last thing his side needed him to do six minutes later was foul Cabaye, earning his marching orders. Manager Mark Hughes was hardly in a position to criticise Whelan’s indiscipline, sent to the stands for dissent.
Stoke were not done yet. Wilson pulled Remy down for a penalty and a second red card in three minutes.
Not for the first time on this ground Thomas Sorensen – playing because Asmir Begovic injured a finger in training – saved a penalty. Remy’s kick lacked power and direction and the goalkeeper plunged right.
Within a minute, though, Remy made up for it, capitalising on Atkinson’s failure to spot Williamson’s handball in the build-up – the only major mistake the West Yorkshire official made in Newcastle’s favour all game. It took a deflection to lift the ball over Sorensen and give Remy his first goal after five matches without.
Level at half-time and with a two-man numerical advantage, Newcastle only had to keep their discipline to win comfortably. They did.
It took all of three second-half minutes for Gouffran to fling the floodgates open. While Remy and Cisse have struggled for goals, the unsung hero has been on a hot streak.
Moved into central midfield at half-time to accommodate Shola Ameobi, Stoke’s player shortage allowed him the freedom to score for a fifth successive home league game, putting him alongside Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand and Andy Cole in Newcastle’s Premier League history.
Remy got what ought to have been his hat-trick goal, heading in a Santon cross flicked on by Ameobi, and Cabaye steered a fourth.
Pardew used his substitutes to rest Santon and try to revive Cisse’s confidence. From the moment the Senegalese entered the field the crowd were willing his first league goal since April and fourth in as many games against the Potters.
Cabaye was quick to grab the ball when Ben Arfa was brought down for the first of three respectable penalty appeals, but the Gallowgate let him know he was spoiling their fun.
Eventually he handed it to Cisse, who drilled high into the net.
Picked out by Remy five minutes later, Cisse missed a goal from open play.
There is only so much the magic of Christmas can achieve in one day.