There was something utterly predictable about the dispiriting events that unfolded at the Etihad last night, but that did not make it any less worrying from a black-and-white perspective.
Mike Ashley’s confused and wrong-headed decision to bring back Joe Kinnear set the tone for a St James’ Park summer of discontent, and the sense of impending doom that has followed the club for most of the intervening months was realised last night.
Manchester City have spent £91.4million during this transfer window; United have forked out ï¿½2million to cover the loan fee of a player who will not feature until September. The Citizens’ new players gave them urgency and intent that Newcastle’s team, made up of exactly the same players who barely kept them in the Premier League last year, simply couldn’t live with.
It is early to talk of red letter days, but a change of direction is required urgently at St James’ Park simply to give the club a fighting chance of regaining some momentum. Ashley needs to get a grip of the situation and invest – and demand more from Kinnear in the transfer market too. The evidence was there last night, splashed across an Etihad pitch that bore witness to a humiliation for Alan Pardew’s team. The owner – who has a huge decision to make over the absent Yohan Cabaye – ignores it at his peril.
Ashley's lack of direction and depressing surfeit of ambition has left a squad devoid of ideas and inspiration last season looking distinctly vulnerable. And when you are on thin ice, the last thing you need is a sky blue juggernaut bearing down on you.
Manchester City were good – very good, in fact – but Newcastle’s flimsy resistance was a cause for alarm. Pardew had pledged to learn the mistakes of last season, but the system felt wrong, the team descended into disorganisation and the personnel showed similar ill-discipline to April’s collapse against Liverpool. That’s a massive worry.
Tim Krul and Hatem Ben Arfa were alone in collecting credit from this collapse. The former made a string of stunning saves to prevent Manchester City from stretching the scoreline to embarrassing proportions while the latter twisted, turned and tried to unlock the home defence.
Rookie Paul Dummett, on as a substitute to make his Premier League debut, also raised spirits.
The rest of Newcastle’s players veered between anonymous (Papiss Cissï¿½ is singularly unsuited to the lone striker role) and disastrous. Mathieu Debuchy belonged in that category and so too did Steven Taylor, pulled apart for Sergio Aguero’s superb second goal before seeing red for a careless arm that caught the Manchester City striker.
Pardew faced a difficult enough job sending an unchanged squad into battle with an obviously strengthened Manchester City, but Sunday’s bid from Arsenal for Cabaye gave him an extra, unwanted headache. Cabaye was adjudged to have been unsettled by the Gunners bid and the club must have felt irked that the news leaked out from the North London end at such a critical time. It left Newcastle without their metronome and ripped the creative heart out of their midfield.
Pardew instead opted for a midfield pairing of Cheick Tiotï¿½ and Moussa Sissoko, with Jonï¿½s Gutiï¿½rrez and Hatem Ben Arfa prowling the wings. On paper it looks like a decent engine room, but it was no match for the millionaires of Manchester and their fluent, quick feet. Within four minutes, the tone was set. Jesus Navas worked an opening on three minutes and Newcastle would have been behind if Krul’s acrobatic reflexes hadn’t been the equal of his thunderous effort.
Sixty seconds later, Krul was again being extended by Edin Dzeko, whose angled shot was pushed wide by the Holland goalkeeper.
We inhaled and hoped that Manchester City might have blown themselves out. Fat chance, not least with the woeful Debuchy in such charitable mood. A Dzeko cross from the right cannoned off Taylor and David Silva popped up to head the home side into the lead.
It was the start of a long night for Newcastle, and the defending for City’s second was risible from Taylor, who was brushed off the ball far too easily by Aguero.
The Argentinian angled a fantastic drive into the corner of the net and you sensed the panic spreading through Newcastle’s team.
Ben Arfa was the only Newcastle player offering any sort of riposte. He smacked a long-range shot over the bar and took on massed ranks of sky blue shirts on several occasions but found little or no support. The half ended with Taylor’s awful night concluding early after clumsily cuffing Aguero as the pair challenged for a high ball. Perhaps he had a case to say it was harsh, but having just escaped a strong penalty claim he should have exercised more caution.
The second half was damage limitation. Yaya Toure curled a sumptuous free-kick past the unfortunate Krul on 50 minutes and Nasri burst past Debuchy to add a fourth and cap a desperate night for Newcastle.
Make no mistake: Pardew and his players were found wanting at the Etihad. But they need a helping hand urgently, and Ashley simply has to act in the next fortnight.