Newcastle Utd 2 Birmingham City 1
While this match bore many similarities with the superb victory at White Hart Lane six days previously it diverged, most painfully, in the most important way – the outcome.
Just as they did against Tottenham Hotspur, Birmingham started well, took the lead, rode their luck, grew to assume the ascendancy, ended with a more attacking line-up than they started and then saw the result decided by an injury-time winner.
However, much less enjoyably, this time the decisive goal was not scored by them but against them. Sebastian Larsson’s wondrous pile-driver of the previous weekend was replaced by the sloppiest of blown assignments at Emre’s near-post corner.
Indeed, Larsson was nearest to Habib Beye when the former Marseille defender stooped to divert the Turk’s cross into the ground and past Maik Taylor. That, two minutes into added time, sent St James’ Park into meltdown. The difference will not be lost on the young Swede.
Strangely, Blues probably deserved something from this encounter more than they did in North London. Once again, the home side had more opportunities in front of goal but unlike against Spurs, City actually subdued the hosts for long spells.
With the scores level, it was Alex McLeish’s team who bossed most of the second period. The central midfield trio of Larsson, Mehdi Nafti and Fabrice Muamba – who enjoyed his best game for several weeks, utterly dominated their opposite numbers.
Muamba even felt sufficiently comfortable to surge forward and have a couple of pot shots. One day, he’ll make one count and claim his first senior goal.
Cameron Jerome is having no such problems finding the back of the net. The athletic striker is the chief beneficiary of McLeish’s more positive tactics and he has repaid his manager’s confidence with two excellent performances.
Against Spurs, he was the model of industry and endeavour and, for once, clinical finishing. In the rain-lashed North East, he was a whirlwind that refused to be contained.
Whenever the 21-year-old picked up possession, he ran straight at David Rozehnal and Steven Taylor and forced them to backtrack faster than an errant politician.
Spurs and Newcastle are no-one’s idea of defensive dams but Jerome is developing into no-one’s idea of the centre forward one wants to mark.
His goal, after nine minutes, was another very high-quality finish. Admittedly, Rozehnal should have cut out Rafael Schmitz’s through ball. Instead, he let it skid into Jerome’s path and the striker – now Birmingham's joint top scorer, showed admirable balance by slipping around Shay Given and rolling his fifth goal of the Premier League season into the empty net.
The home crowd, recently criticised as 'vicious' by one of their own, are back in love with the team and they stayed with their heroes. To be fair, they had reason to be optimistic.
Taylor’s refusal to come off his line made Charles N’Zogbia’s promising free kicks from the left wing far more dangerous than they ought to have been. The first, after 26 minutes, found Obafemi Martins free in the six-yard box and the diminutive forward should have done much better than direct a soft volley straight at the goalkeeper.
Then just before half time, an almost identical centre found James Milner unchaperoned close to the goal. His header went down and bounced up for Taylor to tip over.
The Northern Ireland international deserves huge credit for getting his fingertips to Milner’s 20-yard drive a few seconds later, though. The former Aston Villa man must have thought he had levelled, only to see his effort touched on to the crossbar.
He almost saved Martin’s penalty, too. Rob Styles deserves censure for his ridiculous interpretation of Mat Sadler’s 36th minute tackle.
The left back, handed his first league start of the campaign because of Johan Djourou’s injured groin, slid in to nudge the ball away from Martins only to see the Nigerian fall over his leg.
For some reason, Styles decided it was a foul and gave Martins the chance to equalise from the spot, which he did after Taylor diverted his effort on to the post and watched powerless as it rolled along – and then over, the line.
"That was a pretty cruel way for Newcastle to get back into the game," lamented McLeish. "They had a really good spell after that and we had to defend desperately at times.
"I am pretty aggrieved. There was no way of avoiding Martins and there was no way Martins was getting to the ball first." Indeed.
McLeish may also reflect that his side should have reclaimed the lead after the restart. Jerome terrorised the home defence and swapped passes with Larsson, only for last week’s match-winner to scuff his shot wide from the inside left channel.
Jerome then won a corner which Gary McSheffrey rolled into Liam Ridgewell at the near post where the centre half scooped his first-time attempt right at Given.
Once again, Blues were forced back so McLeish added Mikael Forssell, a second striker, at the expense of Daniel De Ridder. The change of formation didn’t produce the desired results, however. With Mark Viduka, Alan Smith and Martins all probing, Newcastle pushed their visitors back.
Olivier Kapo conceded a late corner, Emre swung it over and Beye nipped in to deliver the cruelest of blows. Ninety minutes' hard work had all been for nought.
Scorers: Jerome (9) 0-1; Martins (36) 1-1; Beye (90+2) 2-1.
NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-4-2, then 4-3-3): Given; Beye, Taylor, Rozehnal, N’Zogbia; Geremi (Emre, 71), Barton, Butt (Viduka, 31), Milner; Smith, Martins (Enrique 90+2). Substitutes: Harper, Edgar
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-5-1, 4-4-2): Taylor; Kelly, Ridgewell, Schmitz, Sadler; De Ridder (Forssell 77), Muamba, Nafti, Larsson, McSheffrey (Kapo 62); Jerome. Substitutes: Doyle, O’Connor, Parnaby
Referee: Rob Styles (Hampshire).
Bookings: Birmingham – Larsson (unsportsmanlike conduct); Newcastle – Barton (foul).
Blues man of the match: Cameron Jerome – scared Newcastle witless and provided another coolly taken goal