Yoan Gouffran is assembling a pretty convincing case to be the Premier League's best pound-for-pound signing of 2013.
There can’t be many providing better value for money in a division which leaked an eye-watering £96million in agents fees last year. Four goals, eight assists and a Gallic grit which sums up the black and white November surge as well as any of Newcastle’s renaissance men – it’s not bad for a £500,000 snip from Bordeaux.
The fact is, though, he might not even be United’s best recruit of the calendar year.
Perhaps that honour should go to Faye Downey, the fitness consultant who helped to construct the summer programme reaping rich rewards for a Newcastle team gaining momentum, power and control as the year enters its final month. Downey was the strength and conditioning expert sneaked into St James’ Park while the club were in turmoil during their turbulent close season. Signed off as a rampaging Joe Kinnear laid waste to any remaining good-will which remained after last season’s calamitous collapse, her work was largely done behind-closed-doors under the azure blue skies of summer as Pardew tried to mend the damage of an injury-ravaged campaign.
The evidence of Saturday evening’s black-and-white power play is that it has worked.
As Pardew pointed out afterwards, United had to work for the three points chiselled from an effective and sporadically impressive West Bromwich Albion side, who had only lost one away game before the weekend. That United did it by exercising exactly the sort of control the manager had grasped in vain to find from his mix-and-match squad last season would have been particularly satisfying for Pardew.
Last term a ravaged team seemed strangely unable to move through the gears, hindered by fatigue, carelessness or other physical factors. They rarely looked capable of counter-punching when a team scored against them.
Most of the time they seemed to wilt significantly in the second half.
On Saturday they were able to dictate and dominate the midfield for long spells against a team who have traditionally edged the engine room battle at St James’ Park. In Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote they have a pairing which offers both endeavour and invention – and it enabled Newcastle to find another gear when Chris Brunt’s sweetly-hit strike hauled them back at the start of the second half.
That, more than anything which has emerged during this impressive four-game winning streak, is hugely encouraging as United continue to confound the doubters in their march into the top five of a wide-open Premier League table.
Maintaining it will be the key to their hopes of kicking on towards Europe in 2014. Control is easy to talk about but harder to exert. The comfort of Cabaye, Moussa Sissoko and Tiote as the game started to bend in black and white favour is a rare commodity in this year’s Premier League.
It used to be the hallmark of Manchester United but this year, only Arsenal and arguably Southampton have managed it on a regular basis.
Newcastle, after the horror shows at Manchester City and Goodison Park (in the first half), seem to have found that formula.
Four wins in a row and none have been as rounded as this defeat of Steve Clarke’s able Albion.
You don’t have to look far for the inspiration behind this improvement. Gouffran leads from the front these days but Sissoko, scoring his first goal of the season, was the Rolls Royce engine which powered Newcastle’s second-half effort.
Mathieu Debuchy, too, pressed from the right-back slot. They were at the heart of an effort which saw few dip below the required standard.
No wonder Pardew – correctly – said Graham Carr’s cross-Channel picks have lanced any questions about their heart for the battle.
That they seem to be getting better with every passing match is even more encouraging.
Asked afterwards if he could have envisaged a top-five spot six weeks ago, Pardew admitted: “I didn’t when we were 3-0 down at Everton.
“I do think that was a significant game for us, not just because we got two goals back but because of the spirit we showed. We did make mistakes in the first half and we have eradicated those and therefore we have gone on this run and from that game I can’t really fault the players in their application and attitude.
“Sometimes you do get games which knock you into shape and that game did a little bit.”
United did not start that well. Shane Long was once a Pardew target and there is a maturity and authority about his game which might yet convince the club to have a re-think about their January intentions towards him.
Newcastle, though, have Mike Williamson in excellent form.
Pardew added: “He was immense and if I was going to give man of the match I would have given it to him.
“It’s a credit to him that at the start of the year when we were talking to each other I said if a club had come in maybe he could go and I don’t think I would have stood in his way.”
United struck first through Gouffran, who rose above a pack of West Brom players after Boaz Myhill’s mistake.
United should have had a second in first-half injury time when Jonas Olsson pulled down an out-of-sorts Loic Remy outside the penalty area, but Phil Dowd was unmoved.
Albion hit back through Brunt’s brilliantly hit strike but Newcastle’s response was swift and clinical.
Sissoko’s strike was a fantastic, swerving thunderbolt past Myhill that sent them soaring into fifth.