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Newcastle United 2 Bolton Wanderers 0

HATEM Ben Arfa produced a quite stunning piece of footballing brilliance yesterday that might, just might, end up helping Newcastle United qualify for the Champions League next season.

Hatem Ben Arfa is congratulated by team-mates after scoring against Bolton

HATEM Ben Arfa produced a quite stunning piece of footballing brilliance yesterday that might, just might, end up helping Newcastle United qualify for the Champions League next season.

Footballers these days are labelled geniuses if they can proficiently kick the ball with either foot.

However, the G word would not be an over-the-top description of this individual effort which will live long in the memory of all those who witnessed it.

The importance of the moment, which finally broke the deadlock of a match which had no score draw written over it in 100- foot letters, only helped to assure its immediate legendary status.

This morning, Newcastle are only in fifth place because of Tottenham’s better goal difference, and sit two points clear of Chelsea.

They did not even have to play well to achieve this lofty position.

No wonder manager Alan Pardew punched the air at the final whistle.

It was on 72 minutes when Ben Arfa collected a pass from Yohan Cabaye, with his back to goal and deep inside his own half.

Instead of taking a touch or laying the ball back, a feature of the game up until then for him and his team-mates, the 25-year-old clearly had suffered enough frustration and opted to back-heel on the turn to completely bamboozle Bolton defender Sam Rickets.

He then raced 70 yards with astonishing speed and the ball stuck to his left foot, during which time he rode a tackle from Mark Davies, chipped the ball past last defender David Wheater and then produced an ice-cool finish as he slid the ball past Adam Bogdan in Bolton’s goal into the bottom corner of the net.

On such moments can a season’s fortunes change.

Up until then, Newcastle had huffed and puffed to little effect and were even slightly fortunate to still be on level terms.

However, this was to be Newcastle’s day. Again.

The joy was complete when Papiss Cisse scored what has become his customary goal with eight minutes remaining to wrap up the points.

However, up until the opener, Bolton’s tactics had been working a a treat.

They allowed their hosts no space in the middle of the park and, as the afternoon wore on, manager Pardew looked the most frustrated man on earth.

Indeed, he would have been relieved captain Fabricio Coloccini was back in his side having recovered from a hamstring strain, as he was outstanding in defence in the first hour.

When the ball needed clearing, it was the Argentinian in there doing the dirty work.

It was a sticky first half. Bolton packed their midfield with five, sometimes six players, and Newcastle did not get going and while there were no clear-cut chance for either team goalkeeper Tim Krul had to get his body behind a Martin Petrov shot from 18 yards on the half-hour mark.

That was about it for a first 45 minutes which deserved to finish without a goal.

Apart from a Ben Afra shot which was heading on target until it hit the back of Demba Ba’s head, there was little for the home fans to get excited about.

Bolton, to their credit, decided to show more adventure after the break and should have taken the lead on 47 minutes when Chris Eagles found it far too easy to coast into the box.

He tried to tuck his shot low into the bottom right-hand corner, only for Krul to stick out a leg and deny a certain goal.

Then, five minutes later, a Petrov low cross flashed through Krul’s six-yard box and it was only an inch or so away from Darren Pratley connecting with the ball at the back post.

At this stage, a 0-0 draw did not seem like the worst possible result given things were not going to plan.

Ben Afra went close with a 65th-minute free-kick which drifted just left of Bolton goalkeeper Adam Bogdan’s post, but a goal just did not feel on the cards.

Then the mercurial Frenchman lit up St James’ Park with THAT goal.

Understandably, Bolton crumbled after this and Newcastle’s victory was sealed on 82 minutes.

Substitute Shola Ameobi, who had injected some pace in the attack when he replaced Ba on 63 minutes, won a header when jumping with Tim Ream at the halfway line and then raced towards goal. Cisse read his team-mate’s intention and made sure he was at the back post to convert Ameobi’s inch-perfect cross from close range.

That is ten goals in nine games for the striker. A phenomenal record.

Coloccini and Krul apart, nobody in a black-and-white shirt was near their best from start to finish.

Too many passes went long, too many crosses went high and Ba, in particular, struggled.

However, even on an off-day, this Newcastle team were able to move a step closer to a Champions League dream which would have seemed an impossibility to all in August – thanks to one of the best goals you will ever see.

 

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