IT was a strange, strange afternoon.
St James’s Park has seen a few of those over the years.
But none quite like this. It was almost surreal.
The game itself was almost a sideshow to what was going on off the pitch, where Newcastle United’s fans – loudly and proudly – made their point on Saturday during the club’s 3-0 win over Cardiff City.
There was no ambiguity, no room for misinterpretation.
A majority want Alan Pardew AND Mike Ashley out.
No ifs or buts. They’ve had enough. That’s the uncomfortable truth for Pardew, who wisely kept a low profile in the face of the hostility towards him on all four sides of St James’s Park.
Thousands left in protest in the 60th and 69th minutes.
And thousands won’t be back next season, unless the club they have loyally supported all their lives makes a big statement of intent in the transfer market over the coming months.
One banner held aloft after the game read “Congratulations Newcastle United – balance sheet champions 2013/14”.
Football is about dreams and ambition.
Who hasn’t dreamt about their team watching their club win the FA Cup at Wembley?
Few supporters will argue against the need for financial prudence – no one wants a return of the days when past – it players brought their big egos to Tyneside in search of bigger wages – but there’s a fine line between that and negligence.
A club like Newcastle can’t be neglected.
And neglect the United’s support at your peril.
There’s a weighty responsibility which comes with owning a football club, and especially one which means so much to so many people.
Ashley – who holds their hopes and dreams in his hands – wasn’t at St James’s Park.
The strange thing was, Newcastle’s players did their jobs against the league’s basement club. They played as a team. And they played with purpose.
They played some neat football, and deservedly took the lead through Shola Ameobi, who met a right-wing Moussa Sissoko cross at the far post with his head in the 18th minute.
The goal from Ameobi, on what was probably his last home appearance for the club, didn’t silence the protests. If anything, they intensified.
One goal wasn’t going to change anything.
Sissoko also struck the post with a deflected effort before Wilfried Zaha came to life at the other end of the pitch.
The second half was less memorable, and Cardiff would have been level had it not been for a goalline clearance from captain Fabricio Coloccini.
As it was, late goals from Loic Remy and substitute Steven Taylor ended a club-record run of six Premier League defeats and confirmed the fate of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
Cardiff’s long-awaited return to the top flight last just one season thanks to the stupidity of owner Vincent Tan.
Ashley certainly isn’t stupid. He is a very clever man who has been a success in business and amassed a huge personal fortune.
But football is unlike any other business. Success isn’t judged by the state of the balance sheet alone.
And recent results haven’t been nearly good enough, though Pardew, rightly, can point to the size of the squad and January sale of Yohan Cabaye as mitigating factors.
There’s a staleness about the squad after two years of under-investment.
Still, fans haven’t seen nearly enough from their team over the past few months.
United have lacked confidence and cohesion. There’s been little pattern and little purpose to their play.
Pardew, a proud and honest man, has clearly been hurt by reaction of supporters in recent weeks. Who wouldn’t be?
But he is not one to walk away, though Ashley could yet make a change.
Ashley himself won’t walk away from the club unless a buyer comes in and puts the best part of £300m on the table.
And supporters can’t walk away either.
So where does that leave Newcastle?
Admittedly, things could have been worse this season – Cardiff’s own plight illustrates that – but they could have been much, much better.
And the sooner United’s fans feel pride in their team again, the better.