Midway through the first half Yohan Cabaye tugged his gloves off and hurled them towards the touchline. It seemed symbolic of the France midfielder's struggles as he and his Newcastle United team-mates became increasingly ensnared in Stoke City's clever tactical trap.
Shortly afterwards Mark Hughes's side took the lead but then some of the luck which deserted Alan Pardew's men for much of 2013 returned. Stoke's Glenn Whelan was sent off for a very silly second yellow card, Hughes found himself banished from the bench for protesting – lobbing his managerial anorak over the dugout roof in disgust en route – and Marc Wilson was also dismissed after conceding a penalty.
Suddenly there was only one team in it as a renascent Newcastle enhanced their thoroughly refreshing, if unlikely, Champions League challenge.
"It was a funny afternoon," said Pardew whose side have won seven and drawn one of their last nine Premier League games. "It wasn't quite working out for us and Stoke had a good foothold. We couldn't get any rhythm but then the game turned on its head and our incredible run continued."
His early foreboding was fully justified. With Stephen Ireland resting on the bench, Charlie Adam eagerly accepted the mantle of Stoke's creator-in-chief. Deployed in an attacking central midfield role behind Peter Crouch, Adam excelled, giving Newcastle quite a few early frights with his incisive through-passes and well-timed late runs into the penalty area.
Cabaye's removal of those gloves appeared suitably emblematic as Pardew's 4-2-3-1 formation seized up in the face of Stoke's amalgam of streetwise obduracy and increasingly fluid passing and movement.
Even so the transition from Tony Pulis's regime is enough of an evolution for a few old habits to linger on. Whenever Newcastle looked like gaining any sort of momentum or hinted at getting behind the visiting defence, Stoke had no compunction about time-wasting and Oussama Assaidi took an inordinate amount of time to retie a boot lace on the pitch.
He clearly made a good job of it because a couple of minutes later Assaidi cut inside from the left, dodged Mathieu Debuchy and sent a wonderfully weighted shot curving into the top corner.
Hughes's smile was not destined to linger. When his side were reduced to 10 men after Whelan's sending off for a second bookable offence – a stupid tackle on Cabaye, after kicking the ball away in the wake of a challenge on Moussa Sissoko minutes earlier – Stoke's manager debated the issue with Martin Atkinson. The referee promptly gave him his own marching orders. In truth the first yellow card had been a bit harsh. "A softish sending off," acknowledged Pardew.
Hughes concurred. Emphatically. "I was absolutely dismayed by the referee's performance," said Stoke's manager, who contested both Whelan's bookings. "I can't believe it. I don't trust myself to go and see him."
It got worse for his team who swiftly conceded a penalty when Wilson brought down Loïc Rémy in the area. Out came a red card, off went Wilson and up to the spot stepped Rémy. He struck the kick poorly, though, and Thomas Sorensen saved fairly comfortably.
No sooner had Atkinson waved away Stoke's own appeals for a handball penalty against the Newcastle defender Mike Williamson than their nine men conceded an equaliser.
It came spiced with more than a touch of fortune for Pardew's men. Hatem Ben Arfa, who twice hit the woodwork, played Rémy in superbly but the striker's shot took two deflections before bouncing into the net via Sorensen's foot.
With Pardew having introduced Shola Ameobi as Newcastle switched to 4-4-2, Stoke conceded a rather soft second goal when Yoan Gouffran shot assuredly into the bottom corner after Sorensen failed to cope with a Ben Arfa cross dispatched after the ball looked to have drifted momentarily out of play.
Earlier anxieties forgotten, St James' Park reverberated to the Blaydon Races. A third Newcastle goal soon arrived and it came thanks to another cross. This time it emanated from Davide Santon and was headed home at the far post by Rémy following Sissoko's flick.
Cabaye scored their fourth, sidefooting beyond Sorensen at the conclusion of a slick one-touch passing sequence. Erik Pieters's foul on Ben Arfa prefaced Newcastle's fifth goal, the substitute Papiss Cissé pleading with Cabaye and Rémy to be permitted to take the resultant penalty and then offering Allah a short prayer of thanks after converting it.
"We'll know more about my team after Arsenal's visit on Sunday," said Pardew. "But it's turning into a great season for us. If we beat Arsenal we'll have to seriously revise our aspirations."