NEWCASTLE United’s players left the pitch with their heads held high, despite the scoreline.
The same couldn’t be said for referee Mike Jones and one of his assistants.
St James’s Park has seen some baffling - and bizarre - decisions over the years. Too many to mention. Too many games lost. Too many points dropped.
But few have been quite as bad as that which saw a perfectly good strike from Cheik Tiote disallowed in yesterday’s 2-0 defeat to Manchester City, now the Premier League leaders.
It was inexplicable. Inexplicably bad.
Tiote shot through a crowded box after the ball broke to him outside the area, and the midfielder was celebrating the goal in front of the dugout with his team-mates when Jones went to consult linesman Stephen Child.
Child, clearly, couldn’t tell whether Yoan Gouffran - who was stood in an offside position to the right of City goalkeeper Joe Hart - was interfering with play from the touchline in front of the East Stand.
Gouffran wasn’t. Hart had a clear sight of the shot. Yet Jones, having consulted his assistant, disallowed the goal.
The decision brought St James’s Park to life.
It hadn’t been looking good for United with eight minutes gone.
And Newcastle fans, apprehensive before the game given Manchester City’s recent form, feared the worst after Edin Dzeko put the visitors ahead.
The over-lapping Aleksandar Kolarov broke down the left after being played in by David Silva, and his cross was met at the near post by Dzeko.
It looked like being a long afternoon at St James’s Park.
Yet the opposite was the case. The game flew by.
For a spell after the goal, City out-thought and out-fought United. Quick minds, quick feet. But Newcastle - who had been far too wasteful in possession - didn’t capitulate.
There were chances for Steven Taylor and Yohan Cabaye before Tiote struck in the 34th minute.
United manager Alan Pardew - who was involved in a verbal exchange with Pellegrini shortly before the break - asked Jones for an explanation after the game.
“He said he was in the six-yard box, and was in the vicinity of the goal,” Pardew said. “Unless he’s impairing the goalkeeper’s vision, and you’ve got a clear view of that, I don’t think you can cancel a goal of that quality.
“He was never going to save it. It was a really, really tough call on a minor technical point.”
It was a tough call, yet it didn’t knock Newcastle off their stride.
But they found City resolute and resilient.
Hart also underlined his return to form with some important saves, not least the diving effort which denied Cabaye, superb alongside the combative Tiote - who gave as good as he got against the powerful Yaya Toure - in midfield.
Cabaye put another effort just over Hart’s crossbar in the 68th minute, while Loic Remy shot at him after Gouffran played him in with a cross-field ball.
City’s Samir Nasri suffered a knee injury after Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa clumsily brought him down.
Pardew sent on Papiss Demba Cisse and Hatem Ben Arfa, but they couldn’t conjure up a goal, and there was an inevitability about the visiting team’s second strike - scored in injury-time by Alvaro Negredo -given the numbers United were committing forward in search of an equaliser.
Pardew had promised City a “severe test” at St James’s Park.
They got one, and Pellegrini’s side, despite being far from their exhilarating best, came through it in much the same way a dogged and determined Arsenal got through their visit to Tyneside late last year.
If every team that visits the stadium can be given such a test between now and the end of the season, the club won’t be far off the European places come May.