St James’ Park is defiant as Newcastle United lose third game in a week via the same old story

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Newcastle United lost 4-0 to Premier League champions Manchester City at St James’ Park. Here, our writer Jordan Cronin reports on an eventful afternoon of more poor refereeing and defensive errors - recurring themes in the club’s battle to stay in the top-flight:

Newcastle United’s third game in a week. All of which have ended in the same old story.

Woeful defending - single-handedly through individual errors - key referee calls gone wrong, both equalling in crushing defeats in Eddie Howe’s side’s battle to stay in the Premier League.

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Ruben Dias, Joao Cancelo, Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling all scorers for Manchester City, who you could argue, weren’t even at their potent best.

Either United did relatively OK and were left to rue referee Martin Atkinson’s clanger and their individual errors, or Pep Guardiola’s side barely needed to step out of first gear.

No matter of the opposition, old habits die hard for the Magpies.

Five changes as Eddie Howe rotates

Howe named five changes from the defeat at Liverpool - two enforced as Jonjo Shelvey (injured) and Javier Manquillo (ill) were absent from the matchday squad.

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Ciaran Clark, Matt Ritchie, Joe Willock, Miguel Almiron and Callum Wilson returned to the starting XI as Fabian Schar, Jamal Lewis and Allan Saint-Maximin dropped to the bench.

Man City’s early Christmas gift

Christmas had come early for Guardiola’s men, not that a team of their world-class talents needed a Toon Army-wrapped gift, with a miscommunication between Clark and Martin Dubravka leading to Dias’ opener on six minutes.

On first replay, it seemed United’s number one was more to blame for not claiming Cancelo’s hopelessly hooked cross as Clark let to bounce through to Dias. Dubravka, perhaps uncharacteristically, had endured a nervy start to the game, conceding a corner moments earlier after a misaimed pass into Jamaal Lascelles.

The St James’ Park crowd wouldn’t have been mistaken for expecting a City on-slaught from there but truth be told, Newcastle competed.

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Joelinton powered a right-footed shot wide, while the home fans were left bewildered with referee Atkinson - not the first time, as they soon found out - as he blew for a City free-kick when Isaac Hayden challenged Kevin De Bruyne. Ryan Fraser’s shot was cleared off the line from Aymeric Laporte.

The visitors had barely stepped out of first gear, yet found themselves 2-0 up by 27 minutes. How? Yep, you guessed it, more defensive errors.

Cancelo picked up the ball just off the halfway line, waltzed past Joe Willock and Hayden. Neither Lascelles or Clark could get the block as the full-back fired into Dubravka’s top right corner. An error, or just amateurish?

Another day, another referee takes centre stage

For the second time in three days - or the third in seven - another referee decision went against Newcastle, and this one, perhaps the most baffling of them all.

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Fraser was wiped out by City goalkeeper Ederson inside the 18-yard box. No penalty said Atkinson. No penalty said VAR. Newcastle legend Alan Shearer described it as “pathetic”.

At Leicester, there was the James Maddison dive. At Liverpool, it was Hayden’s head injury. For all United’s mishaps in defence, key - and what feels like obvious - referee calls are going against them horribly.

Man City turn the screw ever so slightly

It had taken City until after the break to start showing their expert craft to cave Newcastle open - without the home side doing it themselves for a change.

Dubravka put a shaky start behind him to deny Gabriel Jesus from point-blank range before diving to meet Raheem Sterling’s curling effort.

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But again, City didn’t have to do much for their third goal. A ball over the top from Oleksandr Zinchenko - volleyed home from Mahrez. Originally awarded offside, VAR spotted Lascelles was playing the winger on.

Oh, the irony.

The odd chance came for United. Fraser’s out-swinging cross was met by Callum Wilson, another afternoon of feeding off scraps for him, where Ederson was at his best to tip over the header.

Soon after, Jesus eased past Jacob Murphy to put it on a plate for Sterling to add a fourth late on.

Still, St James’ Park was defiant.

“Eddie Howe’s black and white army” was loudly chanted from the Gallowgate End with flags waved proudly. A moving sight as Newcastle remain in a precarious position with 41 goals conceded from just 18 games.

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