|A second straight loss for defending champions United handed the advantage back to their bitter city rivals [GETTY]
Manchester United missed a chance to draw level with Manchester City at the top of the English Premier League as they slumped to a stunning 3-0 defeat to Newcastle United.
The returning Wayne Rooney could not inspire Sir Alex Ferguson's side, as they suffered back-to-back league defeats for the first time in 10 months to leave them in second place, three points adrift of leaders City, who they face in the FA Cup at the weekend.
Newcastle, who pull to within a point of sixth-placed Liverpool, savoured their first victory over the defending champions for a decade at the 19th attempt thanks to stunning goals in each half.
The first, came predictably, from their in-form striker, Demba Ba, the second expertly curled home by their French midfielder Yohan Cabaye barely 90 seconds after the re-start.
United's misery was capped in stoppage time by Phil Jones' own goal.
It proved to be a frustrating return to action for England forward Rooney.
He had been restored to the side after reputedly incurring a $312,000 fine for breaking a club curfew over the Christmas period but he failed to add to his impressive record against these opponents, his streak of six goals in as many games at St James' Park coming to a halt.
Perhaps it is something to do with the North-East of England when it comes to upsetting the title contenders, with Manchester City having been beaten by neighbouring Sunderland in their recent trip to Wearside.
Where Martin O'Neill's side had been somewhat fortunate to inflict a single goal defeat on the blue half of Manchester, Newcastle were good value for their victory.
Crucially they gained an interval lead, as Ba signed off in style in his last appearance for at least a month as the 26-year-old heads off on African Cup of Nations duty for Senegal.
In front of a near-capacity crowd of 52,299, the hosts produced plenty of eye-catching football prior to deservedly breaking the deadlock, but Ba's 15th of the season in the 32nd minute owed everything to route one.
Goalkeeper Tim Krul launched a booming free-kick from the edge of his box, which was flicked on by Shola Ameobi as the Newcastle forward beat Jones' leap outside the visitors' area.
|Demba Ba will be missed as he heads off on national duty at the Africa Cup of Nations [EPA]
Ba reacted first, turning in an instant to send a looping first-time volley into the top corner from 18 yards.
It was the first Premier League goal conceded in six appearances this season by Anders Lindegaard, the Manchester United keeper who came in for young Spaniard, David De Gea, one of four changes made by the visitors from the side to suffer a shock 3-2 defeat to Blackburn Rovers in their previous game.
Having been caught out for Newcastle's first goal, Jones was again at fault as the hosts earned themselves valuable breathing space, doubling their advantage in memorable style immediately after the re-start.
On a largely forgettable evening for the England defender, he was caught flat-footed to foul Ba's surge towards goal 30 yards out. Cabaye did the rest, with a sumptuous free-kick which found the net via the underside of the bar.
It might have been different had not Simpson cleared off the line from Rooney before the hour, the forward's last significant contribution before his substitution.
The third goal duly arrived, in somewhat comical fashion, as the contest edged into stoppage time, Jones rounding off a wretched personal display by heading another long Krul free-kick past Lindegaard into his own net.
In the night's other game, Bolton moved off the bottom after coming from behind to beat Everton 2-1 at Goodison Park.