The hope on Tyneside was that Covid-19 cases, illness and injuries in the Leicester City camp would make the relegation-threatened club’s task slightly easier at the King Power Stadium.
Newcastle, however, made it hard for themselves. They were punished by for a series of defensive errors this afternoon by Leicester, who won 4-0.
The home fans chanted “going down, going down, going down” in response to their teams’s second goal – and United, unquestionably, will go down if this performance is repeated too many more times this season.
This fixture, against a depleted and jaded team which had played in Italy on Thursday night, seemingly represented an opportunity for a rejuvenated Newcastle ahead of a tough run of festive games.
But Eddie Howe’s side, worryingly, never looked like taking it.
Howe, not surprisingly, had named an unchanged side following the previous weekend’s first win over Burnley. Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers, meanwhile, was without 10 senior players.
To make matters worse for them, Rodgers lost Jonny Evans to an early injury, and the defender was replaced by one-time Newcastle target Boubakary Soumare, a £17million summer signing.
United, sensing an opportunity, created several weary chances. Miguel Almiron and Callum Wilson shot wide, while Fabian Schar had an effort blocked.
Leicester settled into the game, and there was a let-off for Newcastle midway through the half when Wilfred Ndidi headed across goal from a James Maddison ball.
Rodgers’ side looked tired after their midweek trip to Italy for a Europa League fixture against Napoli, but United didn’t test Kasper Schmeichel before Maddison went down just inside the box under a slight challenge from Jamaal Lascelles. Newcastle protested after referee Peter Bankes pointed to the spot. Maddison had gone down far too easily, but Lascelles had stuck out his leg.
Youri Tielemans converted the penalty – the midfielder sent Martin Dubravka the wrong way – and Leicester took their advantage into the break after seeing off a late spell of pressure from their visitors.
Things got worse after the break. Maddison play the ball to Harvey Barnes, and Newcastle tried to play him offside. The ploy didn’t work, and Barnes rolled the ball to Patson Daka, who had a tap-in.
Howe responded by sending on Jacob Murphy and Ryan Fraser – they replaced Almiron and Jamal Lewis – and Jonjo Shelvey had a 69th-minute shot blocked by Ndidi.
United kept on going. They had to. But so too did Leicester, who had been energised by their first two goals.
Schmeichel stopped a misjudged backpass from Timothy Castagne on the line before Tielemens got a third for Leicester after Murphy lost the ball on the halfway line.
Maddison netted a fourth for Leicester in the 85th minute to cap a miserable afternoon for Howe and Newcastle.
The defeat was the heaviest yet this season for the 19th-placed club, and the defensive mistakes will, in particular, concern Howe ahead of fixtures against Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Dubravka, Manquillo, Schar, Lascelles, Lewis (Murphy, 62), Shelvey (Ritchie, 84), Willock, Almiron (Fraser, 62), Joelinton, Saint-Maximin, Wilson. Subs not used: Darlow, Hayden, Hendrick, Krafth, Fernandez, Gayle.