Why do Newcastle United seem locked in an eternal struggle when it comes to defending set pieces properly? How, with due respect, did Tom Huddlestone end up at Hull? Where has Papiss Cissé's confidence disappeared to?
As Alan Pardew wrestled with two of those dilemmas, Steve Bruce sat back and admired Huddlestone. The former Tottenham midfielder was excellent, passing beautifully and intercepting smoothly from the heart of midfield. His performance proved the springboard for a wonderful, ultimately deserved win against the odds for Bruce's Hull, sealed by Sone Aluko's superlative volley.
In contrast, Cissé, withdrawn during the second half, seems to have forgotten how to score. While two goals from Loïc Rémy partly concealed the Senegal striker's alarming regression, the worry is that, whatever Joe Kinnear says, Newcastle's failure to sign an additional forward this summer may derail Pardew's season.
"As a Geordie, it's nice to come back here and win," said Bruce, with considerable understatement. It was certainly very different from his last visit to St James' Park, three years ago. At the time, he was in charge of a Sunderland side thrashed 5-1 by Chris Hughton's Newcastle. "My darkest day in football," reflected Hull's manager. "My worst experience."
Pardew has had a few cloudy days at Newcastle's helm and this will join the collection. "The whole performance was very, very poor," he said. "We looked all loose and gifted goals."
Newcastle were rewarded for a vibrant start, full of slick passing and movement, in the 10th minute. Moussa Sissoko crossed from the right and Cissé attempted to volley goalward, but failed to connect properly with the dropping ball, merely lashing it into the ground. No matter; Rémy swivelled away from his marker and headed the loose ball beyond Allan McGregor's reach.
Hull looked uneasy in the face of Hatem Ben Arfa and friends, but they were not about to surrender and equalised when the excellent Robbie Brady cut in from the left and sent an angled shot curving through Tim Krul's legs. Where, Pardew must have wondered, was Mathieu Debuchy, Newcastle's France right-back? Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa attempted a late intervention, but the centre-half arrived too late.
By now, Huddlestone was a growing influence, the imposing midfielder refusing to allow Newcastle's Yohan Cabaye to dominate that department, while also reducing Vurnon Anita's early impact. It is a mystery that more clubs were not in the queue when it became clear Spurs were willing to sell. Not that Bruce is complaining; the occasional England playmaker looks capable of being the difference between survival and relegation. Indeed, had Danny Graham – enduring an apparently never-ending goal drought – not missed a decent chance, his touch betraying him cruelly, Hull would have swiftly scored again. Bruce could at least reflect that his tactic of double-marking Ben Arfa was paying dividends as home frustration mounted.
Nonetheless, Newcastle briefly restored their lead. Again the scorer was Rémy, with another opportunistic finish secured after James Chester blocked Cabaye's shot and the striker, on loan from QPR, took a single, steadying touch before sidefooting the rebound past McGregor.
Deflated, Bruce kicked thin air, but it turned out to be a minor setback. Early in the second half, Brady flighted in a free-kick and, benefiting from horribly slapdash Newcastle marking, Ahmed Elmohamady glanced a free header on to the inside of the post before watching it drop into the net. The finger the Egyptian put to his lips while standing, jubilant in front of the Gallowgate End served as a reminder that he is a former Sunderland player.
A scuffed shot by Graham in an inviting position spelled a reprieve for Newcastle, but it was purely temporary. George Boyd, recently on as a visiting substitute, crossed cleverly and Aluko earned Bruce three points courtesy of a stunning sidefoot volley that brushed the inside of a post as it evaded Krul's grasp.
"Hull played very well," said Pardew. "But it's still very disappointing for us. We're searching for consistency." Defending dead balls better might help them to find it.