Of all the phrases to slip into modern-day football parlance, none enrages supporters more than a manager claiming a returning player is “just like a new signing”.
Bosses might think it harmless enough, but to frustrated fans it feels more like camouflaging the true extent of laborious progress in the transfer market. And when that club is Newcastle – still the only Premier League club unable, unwilling or disinterested enough not to have brokered a deal this summer – it is like a red rag to raging supporters.
On a pleasant night in Paisley, however, there might have to be a form of re-evaluation after Papiss Cisse brushed off the travails of his Wonga dispute to re-announce his presence in the Newcastle squad. Just six days have passed since he looked to be on the verge of leaving, yet now he is being prepared for a major role.
This time last year, Cisse was riding hide on the momentum of a barnstorming first six months in the Premier League, but in pre-season something felt wrong. Some felt it rustiness, others muttered darkly about a promised bonus that hadn’t been delivered by United’s parsimonious regime.
Whatever the reason might have been, the consequence was that he laboured into a new season – and Newcastle suffered. Not until October 28 – and a fortunate deflection via his rear end – did he strike in the Premier League season and he was playing catch-up ever after.
The worry this time was that his religious objection to pulling on a Wonga shirt might once again blunt Newcastle’s cutting edge, but after slicing apart SPL opponents St Mirren, a batch of pressing concerns can be allayed for a while.
CissE looked fit, firing and most importantly motivated as the Buddies were seen off in the latest leg of United’s mini-tour of Scotland. His first-half goal even carried echoes of those stellar first few months when his instinctive excellence made him virtually unplayable to Premier League defences.
More tuning will be required, of course, and Rangers and Braga can expect to face Cisse in the Magpies’ final pre-season games. Two missed chances – one screwed wide in the first half and a second-half opportunity that was blazed wide of St Mirren goalkeeper David Cornell’s right-hand post – illustrated there is work to do to get him right back to his best.
This will do for starters though, and will have been manna for heaven for United’s struggling transfer team. The arrival of Loic Remy is looking more likely by the minute, but Cisse , if you pardon the pun, is the one you’d bet on to start Newcastle’s season.
Intriguingly, the odds might have shortened on Dan Gosling doing the same after his unexpected return to the Newcastle starting line-up produced a performance bristling with intent and enterprise.
His slim contribution to the black-and-white cause over the last three years has been down to a mixture of injury and a manager who has needed convincing about his ability to play the David Platt role that those who first spotted him at Plymouth felt he could fulfil.
And to be fair to him, his willingness to countenance a move to Crystal Palace earlier this month despite having a distance left to run on a tidy contract spoke of a player who recognises that playing football again is more important than letting his career drift.
Last night there were glimpses of the talent that propelled him into the England under-21 team all those years ago as he pulled the strings in the centre of midfield. He would have had a goal, too, if it wasn’t for the reflexes of Cornell – who stretched well to catch a first-half header that looked set to ripple the back of the net.
An outstretched second-half boot after smart work by the lively Sammy Ameobi on the wing nearly connected too, but he departed after an hour’s work with a point proven. It still looks like a long way back into contention from here, but he went down as a positive on a night when Newcastle maintained their steady pre-season form.
A second clean sheet in succession was another pleasing development as a back four marshalled by Fabricio Coloccini easily kept the Buddies at arm’s length.
Indeed they were so infrequently troubled by their SPL rivals that Mathieu Debuchy – an attacking full-back who did very little pressing forward after signing in January – was able to burst on to Vurnon Anita’s through ball and sweep past Cornell to score the second.
Anita, Ameobi and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa all had room for improvement after mediocre seasons last year and all looked sharp enough.
Newcastle’s players are capable of so much more than they produced last year, and that remains the club’s greatest hope going into next year.
The other rests with Joe Kinnear, Graham Carr and – to a certain extent – Lee Charnley.
Murmurings continue around Remy, while Lyon’s owner Jean-Michel Aulas continues to drip-feed information via Twitter. All the while Newcastle fans get tired and frustrated by the lack of a breakthrough.
There were a few anti-Mike Ashley and Joe Kinnear chants, but equally they sung in protest of Scottish pies in the away end so it was impossible to read too much into it.
One thing is certain: Newcastle need to strike in the transfer market. Cisse’s encouraging return offers a measure of respite, but by the time they return to Glasgow to play Rangers next week they really need to have made their transfer statement.