THEIR Carling Cup campaign might be over, but with their biggest game of the season now just three days away, Newcastle will be hoping last night's defeat to Arsenal accounted for all their bad luck at once.
It might seem strange to cite misfortune as an excuse for a 4-0 home defeat, but on a night when the Magpies failed to reach the League Cup quarterfinals for the fourth season in succession, it certainly played a part. Never mind Black Cats, the Magpies will have crossed something even more sinister if they experience similar misfortune on derby day.
An own goal that involved a goalline clearance rebounding off their goalkeeper's head and a blatant collision concerning a player some five yards offside, but overlooked by the referee, effectively settled the tie before late goals from Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott embellished Arsenal's victory with a barelydeserved gloss.
Tim Krul's own goal on the stroke of half-time forced the Magpies on to the back foot despite a spirited first-half performance, before Andre Marriner's failure to punish Bendtner for a foul on Mike Williamson helped Walcott double Arsenal's lead eight minutes into the second half.
A strong Gunners side deserved to shade things anyway, but a Newcastle line-up containing plenty of fringe players was never outclassed and Alan Smith's first-half effort that struck the crossbar might have changed things had it found its way into the net.
Instead, the visitors can dream of Wembley while the hosts turn their attention to Sunday's visit of Sunderland.
In the eyes of the supporters, last night's defeat will be forgiven and forgotten if bragging rights are secured at the weekend.
Newcastle's starting line-up will certainly be different on Sunday, with Chris Hughton once again using last night's game as an exercise in squad rotation. Despite a quarterfinal place being at stake, Tim Krul and Mike Williamson were the only players in last night's starting line-up to have been involved in the weekend win at West Ham.
As a result, an Arsenal side containing the likes of Walcott, Bendtner, Laurent Koscielny and Tomas Rosicky appeared to hold a considerable advantage at kick off, and it did not take them long to transfer their apparent superiority on to the pitch.
Just 23 seconds had gone when Krul was forced into his first save of the night, breaking off his line quickly to block a shot from Carlos Vela.
Krul was called into action again seconds later, smothering Bendtner's shot after the Newcastle defence failed to clear a corner, and Arsenal squandered a third chance in the opening five minutes when smart interplay between Bendtner and Rosicky ended in the Dane dragging a tame effort wide of the upright.
The floodgates were wide open at that stage, with Walcott's pace causing Tamas Kadar a string of early problems down Newcastle's left, but the hosts gradually regrouped and gained a foothold in the game.
Smith deserved much of the credit for that, snapping into tackles with his usual energy and exuberance, and the midfielder, who is still to score a senior goal for the Magpies, almost broke his duck in spectacular fashion during a madcap minute either side of the quarter-hour mark.
Nile Ranger should have scored after Danny Guthrie's through ball sent him galloping clear of the Arsenal defence; Smith almost did as his 30-yard blockbuster clipped the top of the crossbar.
Koscielny was Arsenal's saviour in the first incident, chasing back to block Ranger's goalbound effort after the striker had rounded Wojciech Szczesny; Szczesny saved the visitors seconds later, tipping Smith's strike on to the crossbar even though a goal kick was given. Perhaps the former England international is destined never to score in a black-and-white shirt.
The remainder of the first half was an even affair, easy on the eye thanks to the slickness of both sides' passing, but surprisingly bereft of opportunities in front of goal.
Bendtner drilled a low shot straight at Krul after dribbling in from the left-hand side, before Emmanuel Eboue found the side-netting after ghosting past Ryan Taylor.
At that stage, Newcastle looked like reaching the interval unscathed, but misfortune struck in the first minute of stoppage time.
Krul produced a decent punch to clear a corner, the ball was recycled from the flank, and Bendtner powered a header through the goalkeeper's legs. Ryan Taylor was alert enough to fashion a headed clearance from the goalline, but the ball struck the back of Krul's head and rebounded back into the goal.
Krul' luck, but worse was to follow eight minutes into the second half.
Johan Djourou's header out of defence looped over the entire Newcastle back four, affording Walcott a run at goal.
The England international might well have got a shot away anyway, but his cause was unquestionably helped by Bendtner, who was trotting back from an offside position, colliding with Williamson and sending the defender tumbling to the floor.
Marriner can surely not have judged it to be non-interference, so he must have felt the coming together was unintentional.
Either way, it was a dreadfully bad call, and meant Walcott had an age in which to lift the ball over Krul.
Newcastle's best secondhalf opportunity saw Ranger and Taylor both fail to scramble the ball home after Arsenal failed to clear Danny Guthrie's corner, but the visitors claimed a third when substitute Cesc Fabregas rolled the ball into Bendtner's path, enabling the Denmark international to curl an exquisite finish into the top right-hand corner.
Walcott then grabbed his second of the night with two minutes left, scampering down the middle once again to leave the Newcastle back four standing before clipping an adept finish past Krul.
Match facts Goals: Krul (own goal, 45mins 0-1), Walcott (53, 0-2; 88, 0-4), Bendtner (83, 0-3)
Bookings: Smith (46mins, foul), Williamson (53, dissent), Sagna (76, foul)
Referee: Andre Marriner (Birmingham) 3
NEWCASTLE (4-3-3): Krul 5; R Taylor 5, Williamson 6, Perch 4, Kadar 4; Guthrie 6, Smith 6 (Barton 71mins), VUCKIC 6; Routledge 6 (Gutierrez 56mins, 5), Ranger 6, Lovenkrands 5 (Carroll 56mins, 5). Subs (not used): Soderberg (gk), Enrique, Coloccini, Tiote.
ARSENAL (4-3-3): Szczesny 6; Eboue 6, Koscielny 6, Djourou 7, Gibbs 5 (Sagna 19mins, 6); Eastmond 7, Denilson 5, Rosicky 7; WALCOTT 8, Bendtner 7 (Emmanuel-Thomas 84mins), Vela 7 (Fabregas 70mins 6).
Subs (not used): Fabianski (gk), Nordtveit, Lansbury, Arshavin.
MAN OF THE MATCH
THEO Walcott The winger looked particularly dangerous when he was switched into a more central position after the break.