By Dan Sheridan - Newcastle United Managing Editor
Throughout the summer we are reviewing the 2011/12 campaign - a remarkable season which will live long in the memory of every Newcastle fan. The third instalment covers the end of 2011 and a period which saw United lose for the first time in the league plus the tragic death of a former fans' favourite...
After rounding off October in style with a 3-1 win at Stoke on Halloween, Newcastle entered November in third place in the Barclays Premier League ahead of their home game with Everton.
David Moyes' men arrived on Tyneside with just three wins under their belts from their opening nine fixtures - and they were out of luck once more as Ryan Taylor netted his third of the campaign with a real goal of the season contender.
The deadlock was broken on 12 minutes when Toffees defender Johnny Heitinga stabbed the ball into his own net to give United the lead, but the game's defining moment arrived 17 minutes later.
The Merseysiders failed to clear their lines following a throw-in and when the ball fell to Taylor, the Liverpool-born full-back unleashed a stunning half volley from the edge of the box that gave Tim Howard no chance.
The visitors did pull one back just before the break through Jack Rodwell, but much like they had throughout the season so far, Alan Pardew's men produced a defensive masterclass in the second-half to claim a 2-1 win.
United were now unbeaten in 11 league games - their best start to a Premiership campaign in 17 years - and though the next game signalled their first top-flight defeat, it had been an exceptional opening to 2011/12.
The loss, when it eventually arrived, came at big-spending Manchester City, who were top of the table after ten wins from their first 11 games and already looking like champions in waiting.
Penalties from Mario Balotelli and Sergio Aguero and a Micah Richards strike gave the hosts all three points, but there was some consolation when Dan Gosling netted a minute from the end to make the final score 3-1 to the Citizens.
As if that fixture wasn't difficult enough, the Toon headed back to the North-West the following weekend to face the red half of the city and the reigning Premier League Champions, Manchester United.
But this time, the black and whites returned home with something to show for their efforts, after a battling performance earned a valuable point against Sir Alex Ferguson's side.
The Red Devils took the lead with a huge slice of luck when a Wayne Rooney shot was intercepted by Steven Taylor. The home side benefitted when the ball deflected off Javier Hernandez and rolled agonisingly past Tim Krul.
Ahead of the final month of 2012, the footballing world was shaken by the devastating news of former Newcastle star Gary Speed's death. The midfielder made 285 appearances for the Club and was just 42-years-old.
Tributes poured in as fans paid their respects at the Club's stadium and for the visit of Chelsea on the first weekend of December, United's matchday programme carried a picture of the Welshman on the front cover.
The game itself was won by the West Londoners, but things could have been very different had the early card shown to Blues defender David Luiz been red instead of yellow after a foul on Demba Ba, who was clean through.
As it was, a Magpies side missing Cheik Tioté, Jonás Gutiérrez and captain Fabricio Coloccini went down 3-0 after goals from Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou and Daniel Sturridge in a game that also saw Steven Taylor ruled out for the rest of the season with a ruptured Achilles.
A wounded United then suffered another defeat away at newly-promoted Norwich City seven days later with three central-defenders missing and a patched-up back four.
A Demba Ba double kept the visitors in the contest, but strikes from Wes Hoolahan, Steven Morison and a brace from Grant Holt handed the Canaries a 4-2 win and inflicted successive defeats on Newcastle for the first time in nine months.
Two pre-Christmas fixtures in four days at the Sports Direct Arena offered Pardew's players the chance to get back on track, but there wasn't much festive cheer on offer after clashes with Swansea and West Brom.
The Swans were enjoying their first season in the Premier League and left Tyneside with a point after keeping their eighth clean sheet in 16 games to frustrate the home side.
And despite another screamer from Ba against the Baggies, who netted his 13th of the season with a searing free-kick from distance, Roy Hodgson's team grabbed a 3-2 win thanks to a late goal from Paul Scharner.
There was to be some holiday joy, however, with a trip to Bolton on Boxing Day. A disciplined performance and quick-fire goals from Ba and Ben Arfa registered United's first win in seven games, and the 2-0 victory was fully deserved.
But the Toon came back down to earth with a bump just days later when a brace from former striker Craig Bellamy and a Steven Gerrard strike handed Liverpool a 3-1 win at Anfield.