By Chris Sweetman
Newcastle Town suffered a chastening 6-1 defeat to City of Liverpool at the Red Industries Stadium.
Before the game, Newcastle had celebrated the completion of the Paul Ratcliffe Lounge, named in honour of the club’s late chairman, and officially opened by his widow Barbara.
On the pitch, events took a much less celebratory turn, as Newcastle found themselves overrun by City of Liverpool.
Jack Hazlehurst led the way for City, scoring the only goal of the first half, and opening the scoring in the second.
Kevin Ellison took advantage of a miskick by Newcastle goalkeeper Alfie Roberts to make it three, before Hazlehurst set up Max Allen for the fourth.
Tommy van der Laan returned from injury to pull a goal back for Newcastle, which briefly threatened the possibility of a fightback.
But City ruthlessly crushed those hopes as substitutes Tom Croughan and Karl Clair both best Roberts onto separate long balls to add the final two goals to a dominant win.
Both sides began the game looking lively, although an early booking for Newcastle’s Will Lloyd perhaps betrayed some of the nerves around the match.
It was the hosts who had the first real opportunity, as Max Chimenes found himself in space on the edge of the area, but his pass was blocked and smothered. Ishmail Sonko was proving an outlet for City on their right wing, and soon after he burst into the Newcastle box, but the defence just about crowded him out.
However, for the most part the half was a scrappy and frantic affair with neither team able to produce any real moments of quality, or maintain consistent possession.
In fact it took almost quarter of an hour for either side to muster a shot on goal, as City’s Danny Mitchley fired straight at Newcastle goalkeeper Alfie Roberts.
Moments later, Chimenes had a chance to score off a Kyle Stubbs throw, but could not make a clean connection and City keeper Ben Barnes could easily gather.
In such a scrappy game, one passage of quality would make all the difference, and it went to City, who build up patiently from the back.
They then surged forward, and although Newcastle were able to repel the initial burst, the ball was worked out to Sonko, whose cross took a deflection and Hazlehurst fired past a wrongfooted Roberts.
And it was City who continued to build on the goal, as Hazlehurst took advantage of a defensive mix up to force a save from Roberts.
For their part, Newcastle could seem to find a way to link up with each other, and ended the half without mustering a single shot on goal.
However, City perhaps should have added to their lead right on the stroke of halftime, as Sonko failed to make any contact with a cross with the goal at his mercy.
The second half saw Newcastle initially show some much-needed positivity, with Nathan Morley winning an early corner.
However, that initial bright spell for the hosts was still plagued with inaccuracy, as despite creating promising positions on numerous occasions, Newcastle could not find the right passes to unlock the City defence.
In fact, it was not until almost ten minutes into the half before Newcastle had their first shot on goal, with Lloyd firing straight City goalkeeper Ben Barnes.
City were starting to take control of the half, as Roberts had to be alert to beat Sonko to a long ball, before Ellison chipped a cross over the bar.
There then followed a wild passage of play from Newcastle as they kept playing themselves into good positions, before seemingly immediately playing themselves back into danger.
This kamikaze passage got the punishment it deserved as City intercepted Joe Thompson’s needlessly risky pass and played into the box for Hazlehurst to tap in.
The aftermath of the goal saw one of the few bright points for Newcastle as top scorer Jake Lovatt and Tommy van der Laan came off the bench to complete their returns from their respective injuries.
The two almost combined immediately, as van der Laan won the ball in midfield and almost played Lovatt in, only for excellent defence by City to cut out the pass.
However, minutes later City scored again, as Roberts miscued a clearance straight to Ellison, who volleyed into an empty net.
Lovatt then almost caught out City defender Michael Grogan in possession, but he cleared, and City won a throw-in, from which Hazlehurst showed great skill to break free and play in Allen for the fourth.
City were not done scoring either, as both Mitchley and Hazlehurst put good chances wide.
Newcastle finally salvaged some vague semblance of pride, as Morley carried well, drawing the foul and van der Laan fired home under advantage.
Newcastle did react positively to the goal, earning a spell of pressure, which ended with van der Laan heading over.
But any hopes of an unlikely comeback were quickly extinguished, as Roberts was forced out of his area by a long ball, which Croughan beat him to and finished in a empty net.
Then, on the last play of the game, a City long ball through the middle pulled Roberts out of position again, and this time Clair took advantage of the open goal to underline an emphatic win for City.
The defeat leaves Newcastle in fifteenth, with a five point cushion to the relegation playoffs, and they travel to second-bottom Glossop North End next Saturday, where a win would see Newcastle all but safe from automatic relegation.