THE day started so brightly.
There was a bright, clear autumn sky above Tyneside as Newcastle United’s fans made their way to St James’s Park.
Yet it didn’t take long for a chill to be felt around the stadium, and the mood to darken.
Alan Pardew’s side just didn’t the see nearly enough of the ball for the first quarter of an hour.
And by the time they wrestled it off Manchester United later in the half, it was too late. Far too late.
The contrast to the Bordeaux game three days earlier, comfortably won by the same scoreline, couldn’t have been greater.
Cheik Tiote snapped at Wayne Rooney’s heels, but too many of his team-mates were off the pace in an intense opening.
Tiote got close to Rooney, but Mike Williamson didn’t get anywhere near Jonny Evans, who headed Sir Alex Ferguson’s side into a ninth-minute lead from a corner swung in by Robin Van Persie. More of him later.
There was a let off before Patrice Evra, again unmarked, made it 2-0 in the 15th minute, with goalkeeper Steve Harper losing the ball to Danny Welbeck as he attempted a clearance.
Fortunately for Newcastle, the striker shot well wide after striding past Harper.
But the respite was brief.
Evra lost Papiss Demba Cisse to head a Rooney corner past Harper, who had turned a free kick from the striker round the post seconds earlier.
The defensive frailties witnessed at Reading eight days earlier were again in evidence, and Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor, missing through injury, can’t return quick enough.
The injuries that have hampered Newcastle’s progress so far this season – and arguably cost the team points – have underlined the folly of not signing a defender in the summer.
Points mean pounds in prize money, and the economy is proving a false one.
The rest of the half was punctuated by some niggly tackling, with Van Persie angering home fans and players alike with clumsy challenges on stand-in captain Jonas Gutierrez and Davide Santon, unusually playing at right-back.
There’s history with Van Persie, of course. And his graceless antics after Arsenal’s late winner at the Emirates Stadium last season hasn’t been forgotten in the dressing room, despite the summer change of shirt.
With their two-goal lead Man United invited Newcastle to break them down, but Pardew’s players couldn’t take the few half chances that came their way.
Cisse, however, all but got the ball over the line early in the second half after Demba Ba struck the crossbar.
Goalkeeper David De Gea – who had little to do before the break – recovered well to scrape the ball away, and TV replays were inconclusive.
It was tough on Newcastle, as was Tom Cleverley’s 71st-minute cross-cum-shot, which ended any hopes of a comeback.
Cleverley – who had scored against Pardew’s side in the previous week’s Capital One Cup tie between the two sides at Old Trafford – swung his boot after Rooney laid the ball to him on the left wing.
The ball flew over a helpless Harper and into the far corner of the net to make it 3-0. If it hadn’t been before, it was game was well and truly over now, with the rest of the match was a non-event.
What won’t be a non-event will be the Wear-Tyne derby in October 21. And Newcastle’s failings yesterday will be forgotten if the club can record another famous win at the Stadium of Light.
However, Pardew’s side will have to play better, much better.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Harper 6; Santon 6, Williamson 5, Perch 6, Ferguson 6 (Anita, 63, 6); Ben Arfa 6, Cabaye 6, Tiote 6 (Bigirimana, 80), Gutierrez 7; Ba 5, Cisse 5 (Shola Ameobi, 63, 6). Subs not used: Alnwick, Simpson, Obertan, Sammy Ameobi.
MANCHESTER UNITED: De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Carrick; Cleverley, Rooney (Scholes, 80), Kagawa (Valencia, 55); Welbeck, Van Persie (Giggs, 87). Subs not used: Lindegaard, Anderson, Hernandez, Wooton.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Jonas Gutierrez.
HIGHLIGHT: The final whistle which put Newcastle out of their misery.
LOWLIGHT: Newcastle’s shocking defending.
Goals: Evans 9, Evra 15, Cleverley 71
Bookings: Kagawa 21, Ferdinand 30, Van Persie 31, Tiote 33, Perch 75, Bigirimana 87, Scholes 90
Ref: Howard Webb (South Yorks). Att: 52,203