MARTIN Atkinson was the villain of the piece as Newcastle United lost away from home in the Premier League for the first time since they last visited Manchester – but it could be the reckless Nigel de Jong who has done more damage to their season.
For a manager as placid as Chris Hughton to call the refereeing “horrendous” tells you how hard done by Newcastle felt as they filed out of the City of Manchester Stadium, denied a point by two incorrect penalty decisions.
Undeserved though it was, a defeat on the Premier League’s billionaires’ row is no great drama.
Better – and better resourced – teams than Newcastle will come away with nothing from City’s citadel.
More damaging than sacrificing a point could be the loss of Hatem Ben Arfa, stretchered off with a broken leg.
The Frenchman had already shown the flair which could make the difference in tight matches such as this, but it is unclear whether the Magpies will see much more of him before the end of his season-long loan from Marseilles.
Newcastle caught Manchester City on a good day.
Lifting the team for a humdrum domestic game after the excitement of a midweek European adventure is a skill even the top-flight elite sometimes struggle to obtain.
Invited to take the lion’s share of possession by Newcastle’s tactics, City squandered most of it.
United also began badly, their rhythm no doubt thrown by witnessing Ben Arfa, his leg sticking at an angle, taking oxygen after the kind of tackle for which de Jong is getting an unfortunate reputation.
Hughton’s team thrives on a challenge, however, and once they pulled themselves together they did a good job of frustrating their hosts.
Not for Newcastle expected home wins against the likes of Blackpool and Stoke City, these players produce their best when the odds are against them.
They waited until they were a goal down, their playmaker stretchered off, and both centre-backs on bookings before kicking into gear.
It took 23 minutes for Newcastle to register their first shot, Fabricio Coloccini’s volley from the edge of the area forcing Joe Hart to concede their first corner.
The Magpies must have gained a taste for it because within a minute they had equalised.
Jonás Gutiérrez’s shot was blocked spectacularly but ineffectively by the leaping Vincent Kompany.
Given a second chance, the winger smashed his first Premier League goal off the underside of the crossbar.
Given the deluge which threatened to turn Eastlands into swampland, it was inevitable there would be the odd inadvertent foul.
The pitch, though, stood up remarkably well, which was more than could be said of the kung-fu kicking villain of this summer’s World Cup final.
Diving in on Ben Arfa, his trailing leg smashed high up the Frenchman’s shin, breaking his leg. Newcastle’s miserable afternoon was only just beginning.
Next came a penalty for what they were convinced was a legitimate Mike Williamson tackle on Carlos Tevez a fraction outside the area.
Atkinson disagreed on both counts, and although Tim Krul got his left leg to Tevez’s penalty – hit down the middle – he could not keep it out.
Replays backed up Newcastle on the position of the challenge – just – and if Atkinson was right about its legality he should have reached for the red card.
He seemed happy enough to flash the yellow in the first half – though not against de Jong, whose tackle did not even earn a free-kick – and Williamson denied the Argentinian a goalscoring opportunity. If that incident was debatable in real time, there was little question Joleon Lescott swept Shola Ameobi’s standing leg from under him 13 minutes from time. Atkinson waved play on.
Minutes earlier City had taken the lead after much aimless banging at the door.
Sunderland-born Adam Johnson scored his first Eastlands goal against Juventus on Thursday and, like London buses, another quickly followed.
Introduced after much begging from the terraces with only 20 minutes left, he walked off man of the match.
It was a long way from the winger’s best performance, which tells you all you need to know about City’s.
A two-handed save from Tevez after good work by Yaya Touré was hardly the workload Krul would have been expecting when he emerged for the second half.
Picking up James Milner’s pass, Johnson made space on the corner of the penalty area and found the net with his left foot.
José Enrique booted clear after a penalty box tangle saw Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor and David Silva all try their luck, and Silva and Lescott hit the side netting late on, but two goals were the most City merited.
Had fate not been so cruel Williamson’s header from an 83rd-minute corner would have found the net. It was not a day for happy endings.