The 2.0am coach journey for many of Newcastle's 1,978 fans began and ended in darkness. For the second year in a row Alan Pardew's side were knocked out of the FA Cup by Championship club Brighton. This time the shock was far more painful.
Newcastle's performance in this third-round defeat was an affront to their supporters and heaped new pressure on the board to invest in the January transfer window to fend off the threat of relegation. "We just didn't have enough quality on the pitch for a Newcastle team," Pardew said after fielding a shadow side, mainly through injury. "We need our best players out there and quickly because we need to preserve our Premier League status. We're in danger.
"We need to get more big-game players who can handle the responsibility of wearing the Newcastle jersey. I never thought we would be in the position we were in today, and we have to hold our hands up and say we should have bought more players [in the summer].
"We're not too big to go down and we've got to fight in every game now to get all the points we can."
Given the way the world works, the writhings of a big Premier League name will overshadow the romance of Brighton's impressive victory, which featured a balletic first-half goal from Andrea Orlandi and a second on 86 minutes from Will Hoskins, who had replaced the scurrying Craig Mackail-Smith.
For the proud residents of the new Amex Stadium, Wayne Bridge was back to something approaching his old best at left-back and Liam Bridcutt displayed Premier League class in the midfield 'pivot' position.
Bridcutt drew this lavish praise from Poyet: "If I was the coach of Real Madrid I would take him." But the Brighton manager also warned predators, "We're not a cheap selling club any more – we're expensive."
Some Newcastle fans boarded a 4.45am train from Tyneside. Many took those 2.0am buses. Others will have stayed overnight. Plenty were in Brighton pubs by 10.30am. Their reward: another early exit for a club who last won this competition in 1955. Pardew has endured a wretched time in the FA Cup, losing to Stevenage and Brighton (twice) in three years. But his abiding worry is the Premier League table; his team have now slipped to 15th place, two points above the relegation zone.
Missing Fabricio Collocini, Yohan Cabaye, Papiss Cisse, Hatem Ben Arfa, Jonas Gutierrez, Tim Krul and Steven Taylor, Pardew's starting XI were limp and aimless. Only Sylvain Marveaux, Pardew insisted, had been rested.
The lone blemish on Brighton's performance was some Christmas panto from David Lopez, their right-back, after he had been clipped by the Newcastle captain, Shola Ameobi, who was already on a caution. Ameobi was unwise to make the challenge but Pardew was right to say: "He [Lopez] actually looks up, sees the ref coming over and starts rolling around." Ameobi's dismissal sealed Newcastle's fate.
Pardew has other problems. Coloccini's father Osvaldo told Argentine TV this week: "Fabricio wants to play for San Lorenzo and he is trying his best to find an elegant way to leave Newcastle." Pardew said those comments were "taken out of context".
For Brighton, who lost 6-1 at Liverpool after beating Newcastle last year, the mission is to revive their promotion drive, which appeared so promising when they led the Championship at the end of September. Poyet says they are a stronger side than the one who finished 10th last season, 23 points behind Reading, and yesterday's win showed why.
Orlandi's goal was a pearl. Gordon Greer fired a long diagonal ball which Bridge chased to the byeline to cut back for the former Swansea forward, who pirouetted, flicked the ball up and finished with his left foot.
"These players shouldn't be in the Newcastle team. They should be in the development squad under Peter Beardsley," Pardew complained. Beaten 2-1 at home by Everton this week, Newcastle are right to feel a creep of panic. They were not at the races here. Not even the Blaydon Races, of the great Geordie fans' anthem.