As we predicted, Newcastle United jetted out of East Anglia ruing the decision of their Gallic talisman.
What we had not foreseen was that, having delivered a display laced with creativity and craft, it would be Loic Remy’s decision-making which would cast a dark shadow over Newcastle’s derby-day build-up.
Remy’s straight red card with nine minutes left for tussling with Bradley Johnson on the touchline robs Alan Pardew of his chief attacking threat, and the tragedy is it was so unnecessary.
United might chose to appeal on the grounds Remy did not butt the Norwich midfielder, whose overreation was pitiful, but he did aim a shove at Johnson.
Given the Football Association’s reticence to overrule their own referees, try wriggling out of that one.
Pardew needed that like a hole in the head after Yohan Cabaye’s departure. The worry was Newcastle’s creativity would dry up as Cabaye headed for Paris but United fizzed at Carrow Road, brushing the crossbar three times as Hatem Ben Arfa delivered a performance to breed confidence he can fill the gap left by his compatriot.
Newcastle did everything but score, reducing their hosts to such levels of frustration their own fans were vitriolic towards their charges.
Yet all that good work and potentially transformative optimism was marred by Remy’s red card.
The black and white agenda moves at breakneck speed but at first Cabaye’s sale seemed to be the only story.
The absence of their talisman – allied to an injury to United’s unsung hero Yoan Gouffran – led to Pardew naming a callow bench at Carrow Road. Earlier in the campaign, when United were embarking on their terrific unbeaten run, the Newcastle manager had made a great deal about the quality of his substitutes but they felt noticeably lighter on proven attacking talent in East Anglia.
While the heart soars at the prospect of highly-rated Adam Armstrong, just 16, breaking into the Newcastle team, last year’s misadventures are a cautionary tale about over-reliance on young players in straitened circumstances.
The Academy product was joined by Shola Ameobi and Dan Gosling on a bench which raised eyebrows.
Of those on the field, it was little surprise to see Sissoko occupy the number ten role Pardew considers so important.
The France midfielder was deployed there with considerable success in his first months with the Magpies and the Newcastle boss had made tentative plans to give him that job when it looked as if Cabaye was going to depart in the summer.
There was a pleasing fluidity to Newcastle in the opening exchanges as they made the most of the home side’s nervy disposition.
Sissoko was neat, tidy and composed but it was the flashes of creativity from Hatem Ben Arfa, back in the first team mix, that will really have gladdened black and white hearts.
One move particularly impressed. Receiving the ball at pace, he off-loaded impressively to Sissoko who teed up the advancing Remy for a drive well blocked by Remy.
It was nice to see the fluidity that had been on show against West Ham had not evaporated with the departure of their creative talisman.
It would not have been over-stating the case to say Newcastle should have been three up by the half-time interval. Twice they clipped the post in wildly diverging circumstances – first when Bradley Johnson inadvertently back-heeled Remy’s cross past Ruddy and into the woodwork and the second time when the striker’s individual excellence did not get the reward it warranted.
Surprisingly considering their elevated league position, Carrow Road was desperately edgy. Norwich owed much to Ruddy’s reflexes and the home supporters, who seem thoroughly unconvinced by ex-United chief Chris Hughton, vented their frustration at regular intervals as their players struggled to cope with Newcastle’s pace and power.
The only thing missing was a goal and you would have gambled most of the £20million banked from Cabaye’s sale on that being remedied three minutes before the half-time whistle when the impressively spritely Sammy Ameobi galloped to the byline and angled a precise pass into the path of Ben Arfa.
The forward had a clear sight of goal and seemed only to have to pull the trigger to edge Newcastle into the lead – but somehow blazed over the bar to the frustration of the Newcastle supporters packed into a block in the Jarrold Stand.
A black and white tide continued to engulf East Anglia after the break too. Ben Arfa remained Norwich’s tormentor, tricking Leroy Fer into conceding a free-kick right on the edge of the box and taking a yellow card for his troubles. He also had penalty claims – rightfully – waved away on 53 minutes. Before then, Remy had brushed the woodwork for the third time – clipping a free kick against the bar in a Cabaye-esque fashion.
It was incredible, infuriating and impressive from Newcastle all at the same time.
Norwich, by contrast, were pretty terrible but still delivered a warning to Newcastle when Gary Hooper cracked the bar with a rare foray into United’s penalty area.
For all that this was a good night’s work from the visitors, a cracking performance was indelibly tarred by the altercation between Remy and Bradley Johnson with nine minutes remaining.
Norwich had niggled all night and Remy’s frustration after being kicked by the midfielder was a by-product of that – but there was no excuse for the red mist to descend. His shove leaves Pardew with a huge derby headache – and Luuk de Jong with an opportunity to become an instant hero.