THE last time Papiss Cissé scored in the Premier League, it was a barely believable banana shot which bent the laws of physics. Yesterday’s effort was more like a case of Sod’s Law for unlucky West Brom as Alan Pardew’s side caught the break which might just change the course of their season.
It has been a funny old campaign for Newcastle so far: signs of progress in Europe often strangled by anaemic performances in the Premier League.
History was on the verge of repeating itself here until the match entered its 93rd minute and United struck the most fortunate winner of this or any other season.
Once more, credit must go to substitute Sammy Ameobi’s enterprise, but his long-range shot was veering off target until it collided with Cissé’s back and squirmed past former England goalkeeper Ben Foster.
Given the paucity of Newcastle’s performance in the second half, it must be regarded as a very lucky win – but no less welcome for it. Like the rest of the Magpies, Cissé has been struggling to reach the gold standard set during the salad days of last spring and for an anonymous half an hour at St James’ Park there appeared to be little prospect of that changing.
One moment changed all of that and his goal, allied with a much-needed Newcastle victory, puts a very different spin on United’s Premier League form as they prepare for an inviting November programme.
Positions four to eight in England’s highest division look wide open this season and, with the highest number of draws in the top flight since three points for a win was introduced in 1981, victories like this are very welcome.
Not that all is suddenly rosy in the black-and-white garden.
Pardew said afterwards his team “deserved the break” but, in truth, they have already ridden their luck at times this year, what with Demba Ba’s distinctly dodgy goal at Reading and a fortunate point at Everton which owed much to a linesman’s incorrect call.
Balance that against a derby day in which Newcastle were hard done by and it still barely justifies Pardew’s point his team warranted the huge slice of luck which earned them the three points here.
The good news is Newcastle are a talented enough side to not require the breaks for much longer.
They will need to get to the bottom of the lethargy which seems to infect them following their encouraging Thursday night Europa League exertions.
Pardew ceded to popular opinion and started with the 4-3-3 formation which sliced West Brom to ribbons at the Hawthorns last year.
With Hatem Ben Arfa and Shola Ameobi dovetailing off in-form Demba Ba, the hope was Newcastle would return to something like their irresistible attacking best.
In truth, they struggled to do that – and Pardew ended the game with an orthodox 4-4-2 and Ameobi junior providing the only spark of a half West Brom dominated.
This long-running debate over the best system for Newcastle to employ has more miles to travel, Pardew yet to nail the formation or style which brings the best out of his two Dembas.
For while they both featured on the scoresheet for the first time since January, it took Ba’s removal with a pinched nerve in his shin to usher in Cissé’s goal.
Such worries seemed a world away as United bossed the early stages.
Ba’s opportunistic opener was preceded by two decent early chances which accurately reflected Newcastle’s dominance.
In the 13th minute a pleasing move saw Shola Ameobi sweep a wonderful cross into the penalty area which should have yielded the opening goal, but the advancing Ba somehow nodded wide from a few yards out.
Newcastle continued the pressure when Davide Santon’s fizzing long-range effort was diverted behind by Foster.
However, there were early warning signs about the danger posed by the visitors when Romelu Lukaku – the game’s outstanding player – sprung Newcastle’s defence and brought a world-class save from Tim Krul.
United then drew first blood thanks to a goal straight out of the Stoke copybook as a raking kick from Krul was nodded on by Ameobi senior and Ba – via a poor attempted clearance by Gareth McAuley – fired home.
Five minutes before the break, Krul was called into action again as Youssuf Mulumbu fed Lukaku.
The Holland goalkeeper spread his body wide again to deny the on-loan Chelsea striker from levelling things up, but it was a sign of things to come.
In truth, the second half was one-way traffic.
Lukaku was a clear and present danger and, after having a goal ruled out for offside, he then headed West Brom on to terms by diverting Zoltan Gera’s cross past Krul.
The Belgian was causing Newcastle all sorts of problems and it came as a surprise when Steve Clarke hooked him mid-way through the second half. Newcastle were delighted to see the back of him.
Just as they were delighted to see Cissé’s back in the depths of stoppage time as he provided salvation after a paltry second half.
For the second week running, a late deflected effort had settled Newcastle’s fate. This time, though, there was considerably more excitement among Pardew’s disciples as they look to put early season wobbles behind them.