Alan Pardew wouldn’t say it, but I will. Embarrassing.
That’s the only way to describe Newcastle United’s meek surrender against Liverpool at the weekend.
It was United’s heaviest home defeat since 1925 and I wouldn’t mind betting this was their worst performance in 87 years, too.
None of the long-serving press pack could certainly remember anything quite like it.
United fans were stunned into silence by the sheer ineptitude of their side’s defensive display, and when the fourth goal and the fifth and the sixth went in they voted with their feet.
Out of a crowd of more than 52,000, only around 30,000 stuck it out until the final whistle – and even then only to boo their team off.
Afterwards, Pardew was asked if he was embarrassed by the performance, but he shied away from using that word. However, the look on his face said it for him.
The United boss – and the Geordie public – had every right to expect a response from their team after their 3-0 Tyne-Wear derby defeat against the old enemy Sunderland in their previous game.
If this was the best response those players could muster, they are in big trouble.
Make no mistake, Liverpool – even without 30-goal striker Luis Suarez who began his 10-game for biting – are a good side.
There is no shame in losing against a team better than you are – but there is a caveat.
No team should ever lose a match through lack of spirit, fight, passion and commitment.
United were devoid of all those qualities on Saturday and that is unforgivable.
Once again, their midfield went missing.
As so often this season, Cheick Tiote failed to live up to his billing. James Perch floundered.
Widemen Moussa Sissoko and Jonàs Gutiérrez were almost entirely anonymous.
Yohan Cabaye, playing in a more advanced role off Papiss Cissé, was again ineffective.
In contrast, Liverpool’s young Brazilian genius Philippe Coutinho was unplayable and he revelled in the space afforded to him in the middle of the park.
Coutinho provided the cross from which Daniel Agger headed Liverpool in front inside three minutes.
He was also the architect of the second goal, with his precision pass releasing Daniel Sturridge, who set up ex-Sunderland midfielder Jordan Henderson to make it 2-0 just after the quarter-hour mark.
Pardew sent on Hatem Ben Arfa and Yoan Gouffran at half-time in an attempt to chase the game, but it made little difference as United’s problems were primarily at the other end of the field.
Defensively United were a shambles, with the inexperienced duo of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Massadio Haïdara no match for Liverpool’s lively front line.
With Suarez absent, Sturridge proved he is more than capable of filling the Uruguayan’s shoes and he helped himself to two quickfire goals.
Coutinho again provided the assist for Sturridge’s first on 54 minutes, while Henderson laid on his second on the hour.
If United were bad before, their performance plumbed the depths in the final 20 minutes.
First, Liverpool substitute Fabio Borini seized on a Stewart Downing pass to poke home number five in the 74th minute – less than 60 seconds after entering the action.
A minute later, Mathieu Debuchy’s frustrations got the better of him after Coutinho skipped past him yet again and he flattened the Reds’ playmaker.
Debuchy was booked for a silly spat with Sturridge in the first half and his foul on Coutinho earned him a second yellow card, followed swiftly by a red. To rub salt into the wound, Henderson scored from the free-kick, his right-footed delivery somehow finding its way through the crowded penalty area and past the unsighted Rob Elliot.
Coutinho almost capped his performance with a richly-deserved goal, but Elliot made a brilliant save to tip the ball on to the bar.
Newcastle will look back on a glaring miss from Perch in the first half at 2-0, and a penalty appeal turned down in the second at 3-0 when a Ben Arfa shot hit Lucas on the arm.
However, this was not a time for ‘what ifs.’ The important question is: what next?
United are fifth-bottom, five points above the relegation zone with three games to go.
But for a last-minute equaliser from Spurs against third-bottom Wigan Athletic on Saturday, United’s situation could have been a whole lot worse.
As it is, they need to win at least one more game to make sure of safety.
Europa League campaign apart, this has been a season of failure.
There will be plenty of time for inquests and recriminations in the summer and Pardew’s position is bound to come under scrutiny.
For the next three weeks, United need to focus their energies on preserving their top-flight status.