With restaurants and bars shut, Manchester City did the best they could to mark Kevin De Bruyne’s 29th birthday: they enjoyed a stroll in the park.
Presumably De Bruyne was presented with a king-sized sweet treat too, because City must be wise after Yaya Toure and cake-gate when plotting their star midfielders’ celebration days.
There are more inviting, leafier parks in the north of England than Newcastle United’s St James’, but De Bruyne had a rum time with his chums.
The locals even presented him a gift, a first-half penalty after Fabian Schar foolishly pushed Gabriel Jesus in the back.
City’s park strollers might have been surprised by whom they found waiting for them in the city centre park: mostly young ‘uns who ran about skittishly, with vague purpose, at one end of the field, and a big lad with a funny beard who mainly stayed away from the others, taking social distancing to the extreme.
Naturally, City ran rings around them, on a day when their pink and yellow outfits against the locals’ black and white made it look like a sweet-shop colour clash of fruit salads and humbugs.
And bah humbug for Newcastle, who never looked as though they could be competitive, certainly not until manager Steve Bruce saw sense after 64 minutes and realised big Andy Carroll was not the man to get them back into this FA Cup tie, turning to substitute Dwight Gayle.
Gayle, within two minutes of coming off the bench, showed he too was not the man to rescue the hosts, as he shovelled over a sitter from six yards after Allan Saint-Maximin fizzed a low cross his way.
Two minutes later and Raheem Sterling added the second goal City wanted to make the rest of their afternoon as much as a saunter as the first half had been. That made it 2-0: job done.
It was all too easy for City, while Newcastle were spectacularly low on ambition, most notably by picking Carroll, a player who has not scored a competitive goal all season and who indeed had not started a game since December, and giving him no service.
In the quarter-finals last year, Swansea made life desperately uncomfortable for City, to such an extent Pep Guardiola felt compelled to apologise after his team scraped a 3-2 win in south Wales.
City, on that occasion, came from 2-0 down to prevail 3-2, helped by a questionable penalty and an offside winner from Sergio Aguero.
But whatever the instructions Bruce fed his Newcastle side, the effect they had was allowing City to attack with impunity, raining in eight shots in the first 19 minutes.
A full St James’, rather than this empty-seats version, would have surely been raging at Newcastle’s plodding ways, particularly in the first half, when it took desperate defending to keep the score down.
Sterling’s strike was a soother for City, and so Guardiola allowed De Bruyne to sit out the rest of the game, substituting the Belgian jewel in City’s crown, the end of this cakewalk in sight.