NEW year, same old Newcastle United. Just as the Magpies started 2020 with a comprehensive home defeat to Leicester City, so Steve Bruce’s side also kicked off 2021 with a deserved home reverse at the hands of the same opponents. If nothing else, at least they are consistent.

Admittedly, they scored this time, with Andy Carroll flashing home a late volley that ended his decade-long wait for a Newcastle goal, but while the striker’s driven finish raised brief hopes of what had previously looked a thoroughly unlikely comeback, there was to be no repeat of the Magpies’ midweek point against Liverpool.

Second-half goals from James Maddison and Youri Tielemans extended Newcastle’s winless run in the Premier League to five matches, and means Bruce’s side head into the new year eight points clear of the relegation zone. That feels like a reasonably secure margin on paper, but on this evidence, there is every chance the second half of the season could turn into a full-blown relegation battle. Bruce’s much-criticised admission that securing safety is his number one ambition could yet prove astute.

Newcastle’s complete lack of attacking ambition was their chief failing yet again yesterday, with the Leicester defence only looking ruffled in the final few minutes when Carroll’s presence in the 18-yard box persuaded his team-mates to hurl forward a series of desperate long balls.

Prior to that, the hosts barely even made it to their opponents’ penalty area, such was their collective reluctance to take a risk or commit midfield players forward. Bruce’s decision to pair Sean and Matty Longstaff together at the heart of midfield helped contain Leicester’s attacking players in the first half, but with a five-man defence behind them, the duo’s presence was always going to limit Newcastle’s attacking threat. Throw in the perennially-ineffective Joelinton, and an out-of-form Miguel Almiron, and you had all the ingredients for another desperately anaemic attacking display.

Leicester were as disappointing themselves during a first half that Sky pundit Roy Keane succinctly described as “dreadful”, but Brendan Rodgers’ side flexed their goalscoring muscles after the break and effortlessly cruised to within a point of league leaders Liverpool, who travel to Southampton tonight.

James Maddison opened the scoring after some inventive work from Jamie Vardy inside the penalty area, before Youri Tielemans crashed home an excellent first-time finish from the edge of the area to double Leicester’s lead. Both goals were slick, precise and clinical, words that can rarely be used to describe Newcastle’s efforts in the final third.

The Magpies were undone after the break, but in truth, they could easily have been out of sight in the opening quarter-of-an-hour, when their sluggish start enabled Leicester to seize an early control of proceedings.

With Maddison probing in the ‘number ten’ position and Vardy constantly looking to break beyond Newcastle’s five-man backline, the Foxes threatened to overrun their opponents in the early exchanges.

Maddison fired narrowly wide of the upright just three minutes in after his initial effort had been blocked by a sliding Sean Longstaff, before Tielemans wasted an excellent position in the penalty area as he tried to play in Harvey Barnes rather than looking to shoot himself after a one-two with Vardy had punched a hole through the Magpies’ defence.

Vardy had the ball in the net three minutes later, slotting home from an acute angle after he had waltzed round Karl Darlow, and while the effort was rightly chalked off for offside, it felt only a matter of time before Leicester made their dominance count.

It was to Newcastle’s credit that the half-time interval arrived without the Foxes having created another chance save for a Wesley Fofana header from a corner, although the hosts’ defensive security would not last.

With Bruce urging his players to push forward at every opportunity with his bellows from the touchline, the hosts gradually began to adopt a much higher press that denied Leicester’s defenders time on the ball.

The Longstaff brothers were integral to the Magpies’ improvement, snapping eagerly into tackles and constantly hassling and harrying Maddison in particular as they dovetailed effectively at the heart of midfield.

The North Shields-based duo gave Newcastle a welcome degree of defensive security, but with neither especially comfortable breaking forward, the balance of the home side was skewed towards containment rather than creativity. As a result, they rarely looked like threatening a breakthrough.

Joelinton headed Federico Fernandez’s 18th-minute cross straight at Kasper Schmeichel after easing ahead of his marker in the box, but the Brazilian continues to frustrate. His first touch yesterday was repeatedly dreadful, ceding possession cheaply as the ball pinged off him, and he was brushed aside far too easily by James Justin in particular as his lack of mobility counted against him.

Almiron was similarly effective on the opposite flank, and while Callum Wilson was a willing enough runner as he tried to pull Fofana and Jonny Evans out of position, it says much that referee Robert Jones had just about as many touches before the interval as Newcastle’s leading goalscorer. On three separate occasions, Jones had to stop play because he had got in the way of the ball. Wilson would no doubt have loved to have had that level of involvement.

Leicester’s opener came ten minutes after the break, and saw Vardy twist past Fernandez in order to set up Maddison. The England midfielder broke purposefully onto his team-mate’s pull back, and crashed a superb first-time finish into the roof of the net.

Maddison shot just wide shortly after, but it did not take Leicester too much longer to double their lead.

Jonjo Shelvey was badly at fault, conceding possession cheaply close to the halfway line before failing to track Tielemans as the Leicester midfielder broke forward to meet Marc Albrighton’s square ball. Tielemans still had plenty to do as he met Albrighton’s pass on the edge of the area, but he swept a superb first-time finish past a helpless Karl Darlow.

That looked like being that, although Carroll gave Newcastle a glimmer of hope as he finally claimed the first goal of his second spell on Tyneside with eight minutes remaining. Matt Ritchie’s free-kick was cleared into his path, and the Tynesider hammered a fierce first-time volley past Schmeichel.

Suddenly, the Magpies began to throw men into the box, but despite Jacob Murphy delivering a couple of decent balls into the area from the right, it proved to be a case of too little, too late.

Indeed, it was Leicester who almost scored again, with Harvey Barnes breaking into the box to meet Vardy’s through ball, only for Darlow to keep out the forward’s low strike with a fine save.

For the second year in a row, Newcastle have started by losing to the Foxes. For the second year in a row, just one game in, and it is already hard to see how they are going to make meaningful forward strides.