Kevin Nolan and his team-mates look inconsolable following Aston Villa's winner
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer, at Villa Park
Newcastle United's 16-year stay in the top flight ended in the tamest fashion possible as they dropped into the Championship with defeat at Aston Villa.
Damien Duff's unfortunate own goal - deflecting in Gareth Barry's 20-yard shot seven minutes before the interval - ensured Alan Shearer's mission to save Newcastle from relegation ended in devastating failure.
Newcastle's performance was a prime example of why they have failed to survive this season, lacking any fire and urgency despite the scale of the prize on offer if they escaped.
And seconds before referee Chris Foy blew the whistle on Newcastle's Premier League existence, defender David Edgar summed up a desperate day when he was sent off for his second bookable offence after fouling Ashley Young.
Newcastle had opportunites to grasp at a lifeline in the first half, with Obafemi Martins firing off target and Mark Viduka having a shot cleared off the line by Carlos Cuellar.
Shearer reflects on 'sad day' for Newcastle
But when Newcastle needed to find inspiration in the second half, all that was on offer was an almost passive acceptance of their decline as they failed to exert any serious pressure on Villa - at times seeming barely aware of the fate that awaited them if they lost.
Michael Owen made an appearance as substitute midway through the second half, but he made no impact and barely touched the ball. It now appears relegation will almost certainly mark the end of his Newcastle career.
Shearer led the applause for Newcastle's heartbroken fans as the despair of relegation sunk in - and it was clear their affection for the Tyneside icon has not diminished despite this bitter end to his spell in charge this season.
Owner Mike Ashley must now try to persuade Shearer to stay on and provide some semblance of stability to this most dysfunctional of clubs as they attempt to rebuild and reclaim their place in English football's elite.
Shearer may have been the manager when they dropped into the Championship, but the damage was largely done before he attempted to come to the rescue.
And Newcastle's hierarchy must now indulge in serious soul-searching after a season that saw Kevin Keegan's reign as manager end in acrimony and Joe Kinnear's surprise temporary appointment, which ended prematurely after he suffered health problems. Chris Hughton and Colin Calderwood could not stop the rot, and the task of reviving Newcastle proved beyond Shearer.
For now, though, Newcastle can only try and digest the disappointment of relegation - and accept that they have been the architects of their own downfall.
It will be a summer of upheaval for whoever takes charge, with a collection of highly-paid players, led by Owen, likely to quit the club.
Owen was only fit enough to take a place on the bench as Newcastle went in search of the result that would preserve their Premier League status - but Shearer's side were lively in attack during the opening exchanges. Villa keeper Friedel almost let Duff's deflected shot slip in and Cuellar smuggled Viduka's goal-bound shot off the line as Newcastle pressed for an early breakthrough.
Martins also volleyed over the top when he found space 12 yards out in the penalty area, with boss Shearer showing obvious frustration on the sidelines as another chance came and went.
Tears on the Tyne as Newcastle are relegated
Newcastle, however, were nowhere near as convincing at the back and Fabricio Coloccini was regularly threatened with embarrassment by Gabriel Agbonlahor's raw pace. Craig Gardner brought a fine fingertip save from Steve Harper before Villa took the lead seven minutes before the interval, helped by a liberal sprinkling of good fortune.
Barry's shot was struck with power, but it was a crucial deflection off Duff that took it out of the reach of Harper and into the bottom corner of the net.
Newcastle's fans, who were in ecstasy when news of Manchester United's goal at Hull filtered through, were stunned into silence as their Villa counterparts celebrated.
There was still time for another opportunity for Newcastle before the interval, with Martins sending a glancing header just wide from Nicky Butt's free-kick.
Newcastle could not apply any pressure in the early stages of the second half, leaving Shearer to make his first change after 56 minutes. Jose Enrique replaced Peter Lovenkrands, leaving Duff to move forward into a more familiar attacking role on the left-flank.
And Shearer swiftly followed this move with the introduction of Owen, giving the injury-plagued England striker the opportunity to possibly end an unfulfilling spell on Tyneside with a flourish.
Barry then missed the chance that would have condemned Newcastle to Championship football. He robbed Butt 20 yards out, but then sent a curling shot inches wide with Harper helpless.
Newcastle were surprisingly lacking any sense of real urgency, and Shearer played his final card with 20 minutes left by sending on Shola Ameobi for the tiring Viduka.
Carew then contrived to waste another opportunity to finish off Newcastle when he somehow failed to find the target after being set up by Agbonlahor six yards out.
Newcastle, despite the increasing desperation of their situation, were offering nothing and Ashley Young fired just over the top after a powerful run.
Enrique's speculative cross almost spared Newcastle in the dying seconds - but it drifted agonisingly wide and referee Foy's final whistle was the catalyst for predictable tears among travelling supporters.
Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill: "I think we've played with great gusto and panache, we're open, we create opportunities to win and I guess there's always the possibility we'll concede a goal. That's our season.
"I'm delighted with my players - thrilled with them - we've played 14 games more than a lot of our rivals, I think, and yet we're used the fewest number of players along with Fulham.
"Fatigue possibly cost us a top four spot, but it's tough to get into that group.
"As for the furure - we would be delighted to keep Gareth Barry, of course. He has a year left to run and has been a fantastic servant, but while I'd love to keep him, I accept the fact that there are other things that may materialise. I'll say no more than that."
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