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Posted on 23 December 2006  - 12:00

Two early goals and then a crucial third as we were coming back into the game paved the way for a 3-1 reverse at St James' Park on Saturday.

Two early goals and then a crucial third as we were coming back into the game paved the way for a 3-1 reverse at St James' Park on Saturday.

There was a setback ahead of the off when Jermain Defoe appeared to be struggling with a knee injury during the warm-up and was replaced in the team by Danny Murphy. Otherwise there were six changes to the team which began against Southend United on Wednesday.

The change - certainly early on - resulted in Steed Malbranque being positioned highest up the pitch in support of Dimitar Berbatov and the Frenchman did have a chance with a header from a Pascal Chimbonda cross. The flip side of that particular move was that Newcastle swept up the other end with the ball ending up at the feet of Kieron Dyer with two minutes on the clock.

It didn't seem that danger was particularly imminent, but the former England man prodded the ball to the side of marker Ledley King and then side-footed from the edge of the area into the bottom left-hand corner of the net. It was not clear whether the shot took a slight deflection off the knee of the skipper, but there was a fair degree of shock around the whole ground over where the ball ended up.

It got worse on six minutes when James Milner and Scott Parker combined down the right flank, with the latter floating a cross over the six yard box and Obafemi Martins was in place to nod past Paul Robinson.

The afternoon was taking on a similar pattern to last season's visit to this arena.

There was a twist in the tale on 14 minutes when Chimbonda strode forward and dispatched an inviting cross from the right. Malbranque attempted an overhead kick, which was seized on by Murphy who made a connection and the ball ended up in the back of the net via a Taylor with Shay Given stranded.

The balance of power and possession in the game very much shifted, the ranks had re-grouped and were bossing the fixture. If the final ball had been a little more decisive, the deficit could well have been wiped out before the 25 minute mark - with Murphy, Huddlestone and Berbatov not quite picking out the right ball from good positions. The football at this point was, if anything, slightly too intricate in and around the Newcastle penalty area.

Murphy and Malbranque were having a bigger influence on proceedings, while there was a headed chance from Chimbonda, from a Huddlestone free-kick, that Given did well to field.

The hard work was undone on 33 minutes when Robinson failed to gather an Emre free-kick first time and, even though he saved well in the resulting melee, the ball struck Parker and rolled into the net. Newcastle were on the rack, yet enjoyed the fortune of responding with a further goal.

Even more like last season...

The margin of deficit was nearly reduced in the opening minutes of the second half when Berbatov galloped onto a through ball and slotted past the advancing Given. Sadly his effort travelled just the wrong side of the post.

There was half a chance when the home side made a hash of clearing a Hossam Ghaly chip into the area, but Michael Dawson was crowded out a bit as he sought to make capital.

Our attack was beefed up with the introduction of Mido after 66 minutes - Didier Zokora making way. It didn't dramatically alter the course of events, as Newcastle picked up some momentum as the half progressed, while our attacks were breaking down in the final third.

It needed another goal from us to really ignite the fixture but with the home side's midfield still buzzing around, chances were at a premium - the final effort of note a snap volley from King that zipped just wide.