By Dan King
On another sub-zero afternoon on Tyneside, Newcastle United were caught cold by Manchester City as their woeful Boxing Day record continued.
It remains as long ago as 2001 since The Magpies last won on December 26, but it could have been different here had Newcastle not found themselves two goals behind after less than six minutes.
From that point on, United took the game to their big-spending visitors, and were handed a lifeline in the second half as Andy Carroll plundered his 11th goal of the season, but a late City sucker punch saw Roberto Mancini's side bring all three points back to Manchester as their title challenge continues apace.
The home side welcomed Fabricio Coloccini back into the starting line-up following suspension, and with Sol Campbell absent due to a sickness bug, while Shola Ameobi's injury saw Wayne Routledge come in on the right-hand side of midfield, with Joey Barton moving inside and Kevin Nolan playing just behind Carroll.
City included former Toon midfielder James Milner, while Shay Given was on the bench, but there was no place in the starting line-up for controversial Italian Mario Balotelli, who was dropped from the side which lost 2-1 to Everton.
Newcastle's second biggest crowd of the season, 51,635, turned out at St. James' but saw the home side suffer an awful start. After just over a minute, Tim Krul received a backpass and attempted to play the ball out to Barton, but his kick was sloppy and intercepted by Carlos Tevez. The Argentine advanced and fed Gareth Barry, who slotted the ball home.
And with The Magpies still reeling, it was soon 2-0. Tevez again started the move, but this time finished it as he found Milner before racing into the box to meet the resulting cross with a deft touch.
To their credit, Newcastle refused to crumble and instead set about trying to force a way back into the game. Wayne Routledge had a good first-half in particular, and from his cross, Carroll had the type of headed chance he normally buries - but this time, it went too close to Joe Hart, the England goalkeeper.
Carroll lashed over with another shot, before Steven Taylor brought down Barton's corner but saw his shot go off target - although City showed a glipse of their threat on the break as Tevez unleashed a screamer which flew inches wide with Krul at full stretch.
But it was Newcastle who looked most dangerous after their shocking start, and Enrique's cross was headed back across goal by Carroll only for Nolan to fail to get the desired connection from six yards.
The home crowd liked what they saw as United's players gave their all, and the chances kept on coming. A looping header from Carroll was well held by Hart before a great turn from the number nine gave him space to shoot, and his powerful effort hit Kevin Nolan to almost take it in - but it dropped inches wide.
Then Carroll dived to head Routledge's low cross, but again his effort hit Nolan, and this time the skipper's intervention took the ball away from goal when it could otherwise have been goalbound.
With such momentum, the half-time whistle was the last thing Newcastle's players wanted to hear, and it took them a while to get back into their stride in the second half.
But when the ever-dangerous Carroll was unlucky to see his overhead kick from Jonas Gutierrez's centre go wide, United were again spurred on, and Alan Pardew then brought on Nile Ranger for Routledge to allow a change in formation. Ranger went up alongside Carroll, with Nolan dropping into the centre and Barton back on the right side of midfield.
On 72 minutes, Barton's corner was headed emphatically home by Carroll to make it 2-1. Hart raced 50 yards from his net - and earned a yellow card from Chris Foy for his troubles - to protest that he was being impeded by Kevin Nolan, but the goal stood and it was now anyone's game.
Carroll headed wide as Coloccini pumped the ball in, before Ranger headed across goal for Nolan, who stabbed wide of the near post from close range.
But with nine minutes to play, City made the game safe as sub Adam Johnson combined with Tevez and the Argentine saw his shot deflect off compatriot Coloccini to leave Krul helpess. Tevez had ultimately proven the difference.
There was still time for Hart to show why he's number one for club and country, diving to his left to parry Barton's low, accurate free-kick, but despite United's best efforts it was a blue Boxing Day.