Barclays Premier League
By Dan King, at The Britannia Stadium...
Two goals at the beginning of the second half proved to be Newcastle United's undoing at The Britannia Stadium, as The Magpies slipped to a 4-0 defeat to Stoke.
Jon Walters' header saw Alan Pardew's side trail at half-time but it was the two goals scored by Jermaine Pennant and Danny Higginbotham within seconds of one another just after the interval which ultimately put the game beyond them, before Ricardo Fuller added insult to injury in stoppage time.
To make matters worse, Jose Enrique limped off after just 23 minutes, having surprisingly started the match despite the hamstring injury he suffered in the defeat to Everton - although his replacement Shane Ferguson was one of the bright spots on an otherwise disappointing afternoon.
With Leon Best injured in midweek, Shola Ameobi lined up against the club he played for on loan towards the end of the 2007/08 season, and he had the game's first shot on target after five minutes following a strong forward surge by Danny Simpson. Ameobi turned quickly and shot, but it was easily saved by Asmir Begovic.
At the other end, where Newcastle's 2,750-strong away following had assembled, Potters defender Marc Wilson met Pennant's inswinging corner with a powerful header on 12 minutes, but put it wide.
Then came Enrique's departure, although young Northern Irishman Ferguson wasted no time in making an impression, winning a corner which was taken deep by Barton. Sol Campbell headed back across goal and after a scramble, Kevin Nolan turned the ball over the bar.
But on 28 minutes, Pennant sent over a delightful cross from the right and Walters - who scored the injury time equaliser for The Tractor Boys in their 2-2 draw at St. James' as Newcastle were presented with the Coca-Cola Championship trophy last year - directed it home with an angled header into the top corner.
Joey Barton sent a free-kick narrowly over on the half-hour as United attempted to find a quick leveller, before Ameobi achieved the difficult task of outmuscling Robert Huth and chipped towards Peter Lovenkrands in the box, but the ball was just too high for the Dane.
Five minutes before the break, Ameobi robbed Wilson by the touchline and played a clever reverse pass to Nolan, but his low cross was cleared from under his own crossbar by Higginbotham.
On 42 minutes, Cheik Tiote picked up his tenth yellow card of the campaign, meaning he will miss the upcoming games against Wolves and Aston Villa.
Ferguson saw a cross-cum-shot palmed away by Begovic as Newcastle ended the half strongly, but they went in trailing at the break.
And they found themselves 2-0 down within two minutes of the restart - and only had themselves to blame. Steve Harper gave the ball straight to Kenwyne Jones from a Williamson backpass and the ex-Sunderland striker worked the ball out to Matthew Etherington on the left. He centred and although Campbell got his head to it, he could only divert it into the path of Pennant, who could barely miss.
Two minutes later it was three. Stoke were awarded a free-kick central to the goal just outside the area and Danny Higginbotham, who scored from similar range in the FA Cup against West Ham last week, powered it straight through the wall and into the net.
With the home side now full of confidence, Delap volleyed over from Pennant's cross, but United did improve and introduced Nile Ranger for Peter Lovenkrands.
On 64 minutes, Shane Ferguson almost scored a wondergoal. Penned in by the corner flag, he bamboozled one defender, nutmegged another and surged into the box, only for Begovic to keep out his shot and deny him what would have been one of the league's best individual efforts all season.
Another Newcastle opportunity came when Barton rolled a free-kick to Tiote on the edge of the box, allowing the Ivorian enforcer to shoot. His effort was deflected and could have gone anywhere, but Stoke eventually got it away despite pressure from Ranger and Nolan.
Stoke could have made it four as Fabricio Coloccini showed an uncharacteristic lack of concetration in failing to control a Tiote pass allowing Jones to race clear and shoot, but Harper saved the Argentine's blushes.
Nile Ranger's low shot was saved by Begovic before Barton's dipping free-kick was parried away by the firm hands of the Potters keeper, then Ranger headed over from a Barton delivery.
But in stoppage time, Ricardo Fuller made it four. He raced onto Walters' flick-on to rifle past Harper, completing a miserable day's work for Newcastle.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Asmir Begovic, Marc Wilson, Ryan Shawcross (c), Robert Huth, Danny Higginbotham, Jermaine Pennant (sub Whitehead 81), Glenn Whelan, Rory Delap, Matthew Etherington (sub Danny Pugh 60), Jonathan Walters, Kenwyne Jones (sub Ricardo Fuller 87).
Subs not used: Thomas Sorensen, Danny Collins, Salif Diao, Andy Wilkinson.
Newcastle United (3-5-2): Steve Harper, Danny Simpson, Fabricio Coloccini, Mike Williamson, Sol Campbell (sub Jonas Gutierrez 65), Jose Enrique (sub Shane Ferguson 23), Joey Barton, Cheik Tiote, Kevin Nolan, Peter Lovenkrands (sub Nile Ranger 61), Shola Ameobi.
Subs not used: Tim Krul, Danny Guthrie, Jonas Gutierrez, Steven Taylor, Shefki Kuqi.
Referee: Lee Mason