CONTRARY to popular opinion, the international break wasn’t all bad for Newcastle United.
While it may have cost Alan Pardew two of his blue-chip players thanks to the vagaries of Holland and Argentina’s respective training schedules, there was much better news from Abidjan and the African Nations Cup.
Not so much the fact that Ivory Coast look set to expel Senegal from January’s finals – thus saving Pardew the problem of trying to find another striker to cover for Demba’s Ba and Papiss Cisse – but more the latter’s wonderful goal in the 4-2 win for Elephants.
If you haven’t seen it yet, get straight onto YouTube. The footage is grainy and the camera angle not particularly conducive to capturing a magic moment but nonetheless, the pedigree of Cisse’s goal is there to see.
Grabbing a few yards on his marker, the Newcastle striker manages to rise above the Ivorian defender to connect with a long, raking through ball and send a looping header into the back of the net from outside the penalty box.
From some 30 yards, it is truly remarkable – something that we just haven’t seen from Cisse in four anaemic performances so far this season.
There has been plenty of talk about the stars of last term not performing to their potential, but Pardew believes that Cisse is a confidence player, and reckons that goals will breed goals with the Senegalese striker.
To be honest, Pardew has probably tired of sending out warnings about the double Dembas. A few weeks ago he warned them that their under-par displays would not be tolerated and he is fully aware of the alarming statistic that the two forwards have not scored in the same game since their first match together against Aston Villa.
The good news is that Pardew has already discerned a spring in Cisse’s step, a bulletin that will come as music to the ears of the Newcastle manager.
If Cisse could perform with the same sort of flair that he did last season it would be a timely boost for Newcastle as they face an eminently tricky week that begins tonight at Goodison Park.
“Have you seen the goal? It was an unbelievable goal,” he said. “It was as audacious as it was at Chelsea, in terms of what he did. All of our younger players have been watching it on YouTube, they can’t quite believe it. He has got a spring in his step with a goal like that, it enhances your own belief. And I think that has happened.”
Newcastle travel to Everton aware this is an important game in the context of two Premier League clubs competing in the same mini-league in the top flight.
There has been a minor kerfuffle over Pardew’s comments at the end of last season, which were interpreted by senior Goodison Park figures as being disrespectful to the Toffees, but there is no doubt that the Newcastle boss and his players respect the achievements of David Moyes and Everton. “I don’t think I ever said that we were in a different league,” Pardew said when asked about the Merseyside reaction.
Hastily moving onto another subject, the Newcastle boss said that he would probably take the offer of finishing a place above Everton – as it would probably mean that his team were in the Champions League qualification berths. He said: “I think it’s a very tough call to know how this game will go on Monday and who will finish above who.
“We’re in very similar scenarios – our squads haven’t got great depth compared to the top sides so obviously we’re a bit vulnerable playing Everton this time but maybe it’ll be their turn in the return game at our arena. I think it is a difficult one to call and I think both myself and David will be looking to finish above each other.
“I would probably take it if you asked me now if we could guarantee finishing above them... as long as it’s fourth!”
Pardew will ring the changes for the Goodison game, with Steve Harper replacing Tim Krul and Vurnon Anita filling in for right-back Danny Simpson.
He has a big call to make in the central midfield slots too, with Gael Bigirimana pushing hard for a start. Dan Gosling is another option – though Pardew is likely to think safety first.
Meanwhile, Pardew has dismissed any thoughts of Newcastle bringing in free agents before January. There are still a number of unattached players with recent Premier League pedigree waiting for clubs to approach them but Pardew will not go down that route – preferring instead to rely on his younger players.
“We’re not interested in anyone. I won’t bring anyone in until the next window, if I need someone,” he said.