THERE was a reason Steve Bruce sold Kenwyne Jones to Stoke City this summer, but there was also a reason why he thought so long and hard before accepting the £8m.
Jones was dreadful in the first half. He looked disinterested, lethargic and could well have been dragged off at half-time. The ball never stuck at his feet and he failed to cause any problems in the air.
In the second, however, the real Jones emerged from the tunnel. He threw his weight around and dominated every time a high ball – and there were plenty – was tossed into the Newcastle area.
He eventually scored from one of them, his fourth goal in six games since he left Sunderland, although he had already hit the woodwork twice, as Newcastle’s defence buckled under Stoke’s set-piece pressure.
Having taken the lead through Kevin Nolan’s spot-kick, the Magpies were given all sorts of problems in the second as James Perch’s shocking own goal gave the visitors all three points and condemned Newcastle to a second successive home defeat.
They had some late chances of their own, but it was a disappointing and one-dimensional display from Chris Hughton’s side. After two brilliant away wins in the space of a week, the Magpies have had their wings clipped again on Tyneside. You suspect it is going to be that kind of season.
The penalty was a fortunate decision, but not an incorrect one. José Enrique’s cross into the area was high, but with a running jump, Andy Carroll had every chance of reaching it.
He was never given a chance, Robert Huth checking where Newcastle’s number nine was running before moving across to block him. Five times out of ten, the referee would have taken a second and waved play on, but Mike Jones had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Nolan had to wait for far longer than he would have liked to take it as the official fussed over people’s feet in the area, but he coolly sent Thomas Sørensen the wrong way to give the Magpies a half-time lead.
They had worked hard enough for it, but they had created few opportunities to say it was richly deserved. With Hatem Ben Arfa unable to resist the temptation to drift into the middle from the left touchline, Newcastle lacked width and with it variation in their angles as Stoke sat deep and absorbed the pressure. Newcastle did not create a thing in open play other than a Jose Enrique cross-shot which fizzed across the face of goal.
Their set-pieces were little better, Ben Arfa spurning two well-placed free-kick positions to Joey Barton’s one without anyone actually forcing a save from Sørensen.
Not that Stoke were doing anything to worry United at the back. Jones was out-muscled by Enrique and even Fabricio Coloccini in one-on-one battles and generally jogged around the pitch, apparently, without a care in the world, let alone a football match.
Infuriating would probably be the most concise description used by Stoke boss Tony Pulis.
He allowed Newcastle to dominate possession, his one contribution a poor shot which trickled wide of Tim Krul’s goal. It was all the Potters had to show for their first-half effort.
Indeed, having anticipated 90 minutes of pressure, Krul’s first Premier League start was unusually uneventful as he plucked a couple of crosses out of the air under no pressure whatsoever from a Stoke player.
Stoke began the second with far more purpose, Ryan Shawcross heading wide from a corner before Jones hit the base of the post as he out-jumped Coloccini after Jonathan Walters had done the same to Enrique.
Ricardo Fuller, on as a substitute, should still have equalised, but dragged his shot wide with Krul grounded.
The former Sunderland man suddenly looked a threat every time Stoke launched a ball into the area, another towering header from Dean Whitehead’s free-kick thumping against the crossbar with Krul rooted to the spot.
Newcastle did nothing to solve the problem and when Fuller was fouled by Enrique, Huth beat both James Perch and Mike Williamson at the far post to nod the ball back across goal and Jones did the rest with a simple header.
The goal sparked an instant response from Newcastle.
Jonás Gutiérrez, on for the hugely disappointing Ben Arfa, linked up well with Enrique down the left and swung in a cross which Carroll connected with sweetly. The volley, though, was too close to Sørensen who just about kept it out at the second attempt.
A long-range effort from Perch also required a save from the former Black Cat stopper, but Stoke were sending a shiver down Newcastle spines every single time they got a set-piece in their half.
It was all too much for the hapless Perch who, worried about Eidur Gudjohnsen behind him, over-stretched, dived to try to divert Matthew Etherington’s corner behind and glanced the ball into the back of his own net.
Newcastle pushed for an equaliser, a brilliant run and cross from Gutierrez finding Nolan unmarked, but the skipper’s first-time effort skewed wide from 10 yards.