Friday afternoon I went to Gateshead Stadium to watch the Tynesiders host Southport. This was the fifth tier of English football and a team of young pros chasing a playoff place against an amateur side. Both teams gave their all from start to finish in front of a crowd of just more than 2,000.
A day later, and I was at St James' Park to witness a team full of multimillionaire internationals jog around in the sunshine seemingly without a care in the world, despite the presence of more than 50,000 loyal, paying customers. Swansea, a team who are nervously looking over their shoulder at the relegation drop zone, had not won an away game since Nov. 23. They were far from their best at Newcastle but still managed to become the eighth visiting team to leave Tyneside with all three points this season, winning 2-1 and giving rookie manager Garry Monk his first ever away victory.
This was Newcastle's fifth consecutive defeat -- yet another unwanted record broken by Alan Pardew and his charges.
Head-butting an opponent could have resulted in Pardew's dismissal, but he survived. With fans losing faith in their droves, though, you have to wonder how long he has left in charge. His team selections and tactics defy belief at times, with the Stoke shambles last week a particular low point. This week's initial selection was even worse. Before the game, everyone tried to figure out what formation the players he selected would fit into. Would it be a 3-4-3 with Paul Dummett at centre-half? That's what most people thought. In practice, it was a four-something-something with Vurnon Anita, a central midfielder, at right-back. Pardew included three strikers; or four if you consider Yoan Gouffran a forward, although he seemed to be playing somewhere in midfield.
The game plan looked simple enough -- give the ball to Tim Krul or Mike Williamson to launch in the general direction of Luuk De Jong or Shola Ameobi in the hope that their flicks might find Papiss Cisse. It didn't offer up much joy.
Loic Remy returned to the team when De Jong went down with an injury, but even the inclusion of their best player couldn't spark Newcastle into any sort of life.
Swansea threatened each time they had a corner, and it was this route that led to their equaliser through Wilfried Bony seconds before half-time. Newcastle are abysmal at both taking and defending corners -- one can only wonder what they do in training.
The second half was dull. There was a passage of play that wouldn't have been out of place in the Gateshead and District Sunday league second division, with players from both teams aimlessly slicing the ball up in the air, ending when Shola Ameobi fell onto his backside. Woeful stuff.
Five defeats in a row, and Arsenal at the Emirates next -- a fixture in which Newcastle conceded seven goals last season. No wonder the supporters are wishing away the season, desperate to be put out of their misery.
Finally, a quick tip of the hat to the fans in the Gallowgate Corner who sang the sarcastic "We're Newcastle and we're financially sound" song -- the only entertaining thing on the day.