By the end, the anger and hostility that were directed towards Paul Lambert and his players at half-time, when they were booed off after yet another insipid 45 minutes of football that carried the stench of relegation, had largely dissipated. Aston Villa at least rolled up their sleeves and showed a bit of fight. The sobering reality, though, is that this was yet another defeat, on the back of two humiliating cup exits, and Villa are back in the relegation zone.

Whether it was down to a change in personnel, a new system or an old-fashioned dressing-room rollicking, Villa were unrecognisable in the second half from the team that allowed Newcastle to walk all over them before the interval. The damage, however, had been done when Papiss Cissé and Yohan Cabaye rubber-stamped Newcastle's overwhelming superiority during that first period with goals that punished Villa's failure to, as Lambert described it, "come out of the traps".

It was the same story as in the previous home league games, against Southampton and Wigan Athletic, when Villa seemed gripped by anxiety in front of their own supporters and unable to play with any conviction in the early stages. The second-half improvement against Newcastle was marked but, as Lambert acknowledged, it is much easier to play with freedom when the opposition are leading 2-0 and the game is effectively up.

The Villa manager made a point of praising the crowd for what he described as a "standing ovation" at the end, although that seemed like a generous description of the applause that some fans gave the players as they trudged dejectedly towards the tunnel. What Lambert could not offer was any positive news about the club's activity in the transfer window, which looks like closing without Villa making a single signing. "There have been things we've tried. But money dictates a lot of things," Lambert said. "You have to play with the hand that you're dealt."

Newcastle have gone down a very different path, and in Moussa Sissoko appear to have the ace in the pack. One of five French players that Newcastle have brought in this month for a combined total of £18m, Sissoko marked his debut with a performance that suggests Graham Carr, the club's highly regarded chief scout, has recruited another star in the making from Ligue 1.

He was full of powerful running, making it easy to see why Newcastle had no qualms about paying £1.8m for a player who would have been available on a free in the summer. "Sissoko really grabbed the game by the horns and that's what we needed," Alan Pardew, the Newcastle manager, said.

The 23-year-old's threaded pass for the opening goal was sublime, exposing Nathan Baker's inexperience. The Villa defender was caught ball-watching as Cissé drifted off his shoulder before spinning into the inside-right channel. By the time Baker got his feet moving, Cissé was bearing down on goal and preparing to slip the ball under Brad Guzan. It was tempting to wonder what was going through Lambert's mind at the time, given that the Villa manager had identified Sissoko as a transfer target earlier in the month. What a difference he would have made to Villa's desperately poor midfield.

Villa's problems at the back – they have failed to keep a clean sheet in 13 games and conceded 31 goals across those fixtures – are just as worrying. If Baker was caught out for the opening goal, the defending in the lead-up to the second was not much better. Joe Bennett, who looks out of his depth at this level and was predictably withdrawn at half-time, was in no rush to close down Jonás Gutiérrez, allowing the winger the time and space to fling in a cross that Ron Vlaar could head out only to the edge of the area. Cabaye, one of four Frenchman in the Newcastle starting lineup, took a touch before executing a beautiful volley that found the far corner of the net.

At that point it was hard to see any way back for a Villa side who looked so painfully short of confidence against a Newcastle team who, it is worth remembering, had arrived here having failed to win away from home all season.

Lambert, however, used the half-time break for more than respite from the discontent in the stands. Bennett and Darren Bent were replaced by Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor, the five-man defence became four and Villa, buoyed by Christian Benteke's goal from the penalty spot, finally played with some belief and courage.

Ultimately, though, it was another chastening night for the Midlands club, whose hopes of avoiding relegation look like resting with the same players who got them into this mess.