There were no signs of complacency on the team-sheet. Eyebrows were raised as it was pinned at the strength, not the weakness, of Alan Pardew’s team. Even so, Pardew’s resources were stretched enough that youngster Phil Airey sat on the bench.
Tired or not, there was still enough to beat a struggling League Two side, but many players were way below par.
If Premier League opposition inspired Stevenage to raise their game, Newcastle seemed to get dragged down to basement football, resorting too often to hopeful long balls.
Tim Krul’s handling was shaky, his kicking dreadful, Mike Williamson lacked the assurance which was his hallmark under Chris Hughton and, like Alan Smith in particular, his passing was wasteful. Leon Best looked nothing like a man who days earlier scored his first top-flight hat-trick.
Barton took the fight to fans who seemed affronted by his mere presence, but his over-ambitious passing was hit-and-miss.
The responses to each side’s first goals were telling.
After Stacy Long got lucky with a massive deflection off Williamson which wrong-footed Krul, Nolan curled a shot towards the top left-hand corner of Chris Day’s net, only for the former Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper to palm it away.
A goal could have inspired Newcastle in a way Pardew’s half-time team-talk curiously failed to.
Instead Stevenage scored next. They had edged a tight first half without putting Krul under undue pressure.
However, after Coloccini had slid in to win the ball Michael Bostwick – wearing what threatens to be a bushy good luck charm across his face – was first to it, pouncing to smash it off the inside of the post.
The underdogs led 2-0 with 55 minutes gone. Having thrown on Nile Ranger for the ineffective Best at half-time, Pardew turned to his emergency option, Cheik Tioté.
Within 13 minutes the Ivory Coast midfielder was red-carded for a lunging tackle on Jon Ashton and is now set to miss next weekend’s derby against Sunderland.
Tioté will consider himself unlucky to have seen red after taking the ball, but by throwing himself so recklessly he risked a sending-off regardless.
In the second of four added minutes salvation appeared to be at hand.
When Barton blasted a dipping shot from 30 yards, it looked as if the visitors could steal a replay.
A fourth goal quickly followed, but not at the end Newcastle hoped.
When Bostwick played a slide-rule pass, Peter Winn – loaned to Gateshead last season – lifted it over Krul.
For Stevenage history had been made. For Newcastle, there are lessons to be learned.