By Dan King
The Magpies' frustrating habit of losing games at home to teams below them resurfaced as Sam Allardyce returned to haunt Newcastle.
Two sucker punch goals proved United's undoing, with Andy Carroll's seventh goal of the season not enough to prevent a disappointing defeat - although it surely confirmed the Gateshead-born number nine's place in the England squad to face France in seven days' time.
After three wins in succession, hopes were high of making it four against a struggling Rovers side, but in truth Newcastle's efforts at The Emirates seemed to take their toll as they never really got going.
Chris Hughton named an unchanged side from the one which beat Arsenal, and even chose the same substitutes, while he once again wore the lucky suit which has served him so well in recent weeks.
But there was nothing smart about the way Rovers took the lead after less than three minutes, as United proved to be their own worst enemy and Cheik Tiote was punished for virtually his first mistake in a black and white shirt since his September arrival.
The Ivorian never gives the ball away, but he did on this occasion - and in the worst possible area as he got the ball stuck under his feet in his own box after Carroll half-cleared a corner kick. Morten Gamst Pedersen nipped in to rob him and then placed a low shot right in the area where Tim Krul couldn't reach it.
Rovers had set up with five at the back, suggesting they would have been happy with a draw - but now had an early lead to protect.
It was a sloppy start from the home side, with passes misplaced with alarming regularity, but they did nearly equalise as Jose Enrique bombed forward, turned Brett Emerton inside out but saw his shot deflected behind by the impressive visiting captain, Christopher Samba.
And as the big Congolese defender dealt with pretty much everything United had to offer, ably assisted by Ryan Nelson and Gael Givet, Pedersen saw another shot deflected wide.
Newcastle's best chance came as the half-hour mark approached, with Joey Barton lobbing the ball into the box and Carroll attacking with menace, but he just couldn't turn it goalwards, while Kevin Nolan saw an effort from outside the box go wide under pressure from Givet and a snap-shot flash just off target.
Another Barton wall was headed on by Carroll, then by Ameobi, but Nolan couldn't connect with an overhead kick as United finally began to get out of first gear, and after a great pass from Jonas Gutierrez, Joey Barton shot wide from a tight angle inside the box.
On the stroke of half-time, Pedersen saw a free-kick well held by Tim Krul before Shola Ameobi blazed over the bar, but was flagged offside anyway in what was to be his final contribution to the game.
He had been a doubt before the match, and after picking up a hamstring injury he was replaced for the second half by Nile Ranger.
And just as Rovers had scored after a couple of minutes of the first half, United did the same two minutes into the second as they came out with guns blazing. Once again, it was the Barton/Carroll combination which has proved so fruitful for Newcastle of late. The Merseyside midfielder put the ball over from a left-wing free-kick and the big striker was at the far post to head home.
With Newcastle's tails up, Barton immediately went on a great driving run but shot well over, but Rovers continued to pose a threat, particularly through the lively David Hoilett. But the left-winger let himself down with a dreadful dive to try and con a penalty as he went down under Mike Williamson's challenge; referee Mike Jones thankfully saw through it, and dived the Rovers man for simulation.
Rovers then brought on Jason Roberts, who scored their winner against Wigan at the weekend, for Croat Nikola Kalinic, and that substitution was to prove vital.
Gutierrez saw a low shot easily gathered by Paul Robinson and Ranger got into a good position in the box but overhit his ball across goal as, boosted by another fine display from Carroll, the home side began to look the more likely victors.
But Roberts, who didn't even have a squad number at the start of the season, changed all that on 83 minutes. He beat Mike Williamson to a long ball pumped into the box - the Newcastle defender was left flattened and claiming a foul, but to no avail - and the Rovers striker was then able to slot past the exposed Krul.
It was the definition of a route one goal, but Allardyce would not have cared how the goal was scored. United brought on Wayne Routledge for Tiote to try and find a late equaliser, but despite plenty of pressure, they could not carve out the clear cut chance they craved.
It was a triumphant return for Big Sam, who kept the away team coach waiting for some time after the final whistle as he enjoyed every minute of his revenge mission - but Newcastle stayed fifth in the Barclays Premier League.