NO.9s are not supposed to be unsung heroes, but last night Papiss Cissé was just that, writes Stuart Rayner.
SELFLESSNESS is not always a great quality in centre-forwards. But on a freezing night in Kharkiv, Papiss Cissé was not Newcastle United’s centre-forward.
When Demba Ba took Roman Abramovich’s rouble in January, it looked like the Magpies No. 9’s days traipsing up and down the right wing were over.
European football tends to have a more cat-and-mouse feel to it than the earthy delights of the Premier League, and it was Cissé who was asked to sacrifice himself last night to help Newcastle to keep playing in it.
When Cissé left the field after 75 minutes for the still more unselfish Jonás Gutiérrez it was without the goal by which greedy poachers are judged, but safe in the knowledge he had played his part.
With his team-mates – the excellent Tim Krul in particular – able to see out the aggregate win without him, Cissé can take great pride in the part he played in putting Newcastle into the Europa League’s last 16.
Last season Cissé could more than justify his selection with the weight of goals he contributed to their surge into the Europa League.
Like so many of the key figures in that run, he has been unable to recreate the magic this season. In situations like that, hard work is the only answer.
Seven goals in 31 appearances are simply not enough for a goal-poacher of Cissé’s quality. The Senegalese did see two legitimate goals chalked off in the first leg when over-eager linesmen called borderline decisions the wrong way, but his failure to bury an added-time chance was down to no one but him.
Oleksandr Goryainov made an outstanding save, but a better directed header would not have given him the chance. Cissé was at least blameless when Kharkiv’s sole Ukrainian denied him again at the Metalist Stadium. Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran, cup-tied in the Europa League, were bought to play around the striker, not threaten his place.
Only Shola Ameobi is really capable of that, and then only when his fragile frame allows it.
Once a move for Loïc Rémy fell through in January a lot of eggs were put in the basket marked “Cissé”, but this was an ideal opportunity for Ameobi to remind Pardew he does have other options.
There are two types of football which bring the best out of Ameobi – derby games and European competition. Only Jackie Milburn has scored more against Sunderland, only Alan Shearer in continental competition.
His cool 63rd-minute penalty decided the tie and a second leg which, in keeping with much European football, was more intruiging than incident-packed.
But while Ameobi will take the headlines, Pardew will be equally appreciative of Cissé’s contribution.
To be moved back to the right-wing berth he was forced to fill so often in the first half of the season when Ba needed to be accommodated could have been interpreted as a slap in the face.
But Pardew will have sold it to him by telling him it was a way for him to get more opportunities than he might as a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and so it proved.
Newcastle’s main tactic was to knock the ball long for Ameobi, and for Cissé to chase the flick-ons. It served them well. It took some good defending from Fininho to stop Cissé latching on to the flick from a Krul goalkick. Newcastle’s plan was a little more sophisticated than simply that, though, and Cissé was able to play a good one-two with Ameobi late in the first half which put him through on goal. Not for the first time in the tie, he was denied by Goryainov.
With cast-iron chances thin on the ground for either side, the match-winning opportunity instead fell to Ameobi, gifted it when Goryainov fouled Sissoko trying to clear up the mess of Papa Gueye’s poor backpass.
And once Cissé had made way it was down to Krul to produce the heroics, with two saves as crucial as they were impressive.
Football matches are won by more than just their star figures though. Last night was a case in point.