NEWCASTLE'S six-game winning run came shuddering to a halt as they crashed to an emphatic 4-0 defeat at Wigan Athletic.
Dreams of a Champions League place appeared seriously misplaced as the Magpies conceded four goals before half-time at the DW Stadium.
Victor Moses claimed an early brace, while Shaun Maloney and Franco Di Santo also scored as Newcastle suffered a complete meltdown before the break.
Papiss Cisse hit the crossbar and post as things improved in the second half, but United's rally was much too little, much too late.
The Magpies remain three points clear of fifth-placed Tottenham and four points ahead of sixth-placed Chelsea, but those gaps will close if the London clubs win their respective matches tomorrow.
Newcastle went into the game knowing a win could have taken them level with Arsenal, but that eventuality effectively went out of the window inside the opening quarter-of-an-hour as the Magpies
rapidly found themselves two goals down.
Moses scored them both, and both goals owed much to some extremely sloppy Newcastle defending.
Emmerson Boyce set up the first, crossing from the right-hand side to enable Moses to leap above a static Mike Williamson and loop a header into the roof of the net.
The second came less than two minutes later, and this time it was the visitors' other centre-half, Fabricio Coloccini, who was at fault.
Jean Beausejour crossed from the left-hand side, Coloccini's weak clearance went straight to Moses, and the Wigan midfielder calmly side-footed the ball past Tim Krul.
No doubt nonplussed by his side's poor start, Alan Pardew opted to switch formation. Davide Santon was shuffled to the right of midfield as Newcastle matched Wigan's 3-4-3 formation, but if
anything, the ploy merely unsettled United's players even more.
Wigan scored a third goal in the 36th minute, with Di Santo releasing Maloney on the outside of Danny Simpson, and the former Celtic midfielder rolling a precise finish into the bottom right-hand
There was no way back even at that stage, but worse was to come on the stroke of half-time as the hosts, who have effectively secured their Premier League status with two games to go, made it 4-0.
The fourth goal was the only one that did not really involve any slipshod defending. Maloney rolled the ball into Di Santo's path 25 yards out, and the Argentinian curled a fantastic shot beyond
Newcastle's formation changed again at the start of the second half – Pardew opted for 4-5-1 in an attempt to limit the damage – but the visitors continued to come under sustained pressure.
Krul made an excellent instinctive save to prevent Moses claiming his hat-trick after Beausejour had wreaked more havoc down the left-hand side, but the Magpies finally created a meaningful chance
of their own shortly after the hour mark.
Hatem Ben Arfa jinked this way and that before producing a wonderful pass to release Cisse, but the striker saw his shot parried by Ali Al-Habsi.
Cisse was trying to become the first Newcastle player to score in seven Premier League games in succession, and he could not have come any closer in the 64th minute.
Jonas Gutierrez sent him scampering down the inside-left channel, but while his curled shot beat Al-Habsi, it rebounded off the crossbar.
The woodwork was shaking again seven minutes later, and again it was Cisse that was responsible. Ben Arfa crossed from the left, and Cisse beat his man to power a header against the right-hand
WIGAN (3-4-3): Al Habsi; Alcaraz, Caldwell, Figueroa; Boyce, McArthur, McCarthy, Beausejour; Moses (Gomez 83), Di Santo (Sammon 68), Maloney.
Subs (not used): Pollitt (gk), Crusat, Jones, Diame, Rodallega.
NEWCASTLE (4-3-3): Krul; Simpson (Perch 81), Coloccini, Williamson, Santon; Tiote, Cabaye (Ferguson 83), Gutierrez; Ben Arfa (R Taylor 73), Cisse, Ba.
Subs (not used): Elliot (gk), Gosling, Best, Shola Ameobi.