This was a perfect ten from the perfect ten.
Yohan Cabaye may not wear the shirt number for Newcastle United but he is scratching an itch Alan Pardew has had for three years. Kevin Nolan, Moussa Sissoko and Hatem Ben Arfa have all been given a turn in a role which Pardew sees as key to Newcastle’s evolution – but none has managed to turn it into an artform like Cabaye.
It was not just about the goals on Saturday, sumptuous as they both were. Cabaye’s stellar contribution was notable more for the way he completely dictated the rhythm and flow of this contest, nudging Newcastle into a different stratosphere from Sam Allardyce’s ugly, dispirited and disjointed Iron. While Newcastle’s squad head for sunnier climes after this restorative win, the hype and hot air of the January transfer window might reasonably be expected to fill the void created by United’s FA Cup exit.
As the club attempt to hurdle the obstacles which might prevent them from adding a new Gallic hope Remy Cabella to this talented group, the hope must be their creative talisman’s scintillating form does alert suitors.
No player is priceless in the modern era but Cabaye is as near as dammit to Newcastle’s cause.
When Newcastle sold Andy Carroll in January 2011 they put a £35million price tag on their chief supply of goals – surely their architect-in-chief is worth approaching that too?
On an afternoon which emphasised the gap between the Premier League’s top eight and all of the rest, Cabaye was the most eye-catching performer in a Newcastle midfield which purred for 45 minutes.
Vurnon Anita’s technical excellence contributed to a dominant first half but Cheick Tiote, undeterred by last week’s controversy, was influential too.
When a combination of their own carelessness and West Ham’s tail -wagging put them on to the back burner for 30 second-half minutes they were indebted to a Mike Williamson-led rearguard action to repel Allardyce’s blunt claret and blue weapon.
Cabaye had the final word, however, curling a brilliant dead ball past Adrian to bookmark a performance of relentless creativity.
It was a performance hewn with enough class and poise the agenda afterwards was inevitable. It is one of the biggest frustrations of English football’s ugly transfer calendar any decent display in January cannot be admired for any length of time without a flurry of questions about what this might mean for Arsenal, Manchester United or Paris Saint Germain.
On Saturday, Newcastle fans were given roughly 20 minutes before the story changed from Cabaye’s finesse to his future. Having just shaken hands with a ghost of January past Carroll, it was no surprise Pardew stayed close to the party line. “You get nervous,” he admitted. “We sold Andy Carroll on the last day three years ago when we did not expect him to go but it was a bid which came out of left field. You can never, never say never again.”
The concern is Mike Ashley will see the table – and Newcastle being nicely nestled in the top eight – and figure United can afford to gamble again. The implication of Pardew’s words is United will, for the first time since Carroll’s sale, succumb if a big enough offer is tabled.
However, the mood music around Cabaye is very different from what it was in the summer.
Back then there were several interviews from the player himself which were open to interpretation and Newcastle struggled to keep the Cabaye genie in the bottle. This time, the player’s deeds are worth more than his words. If his contributions are tied to his mood then he is a very happy player. There is no agitation from Newcastle’s main man.
Perhaps that shouldn’t be forgotten here. Everything Newcastle do is channelled through Cabaye and that suits him - he is playing well because United are enabling him and in a World Cup year that is a key factor.
A quick glance at Carroll and the lumbering mass of unfulfilled potential which came off the bench in the second half should illustrate big- money moves aren’t always the holy grail.
It is unfair to judge Carroll on a game where he was clearly rusty but his contribution was woeful even by West Ham’s standards.
Summoned to add cutting edge to their unlikely bid to rescue a point, he missed an open goal, swiped an ugly air kick and generally looked completely off the pace.
It shouldn’t have mattered. In the first half Newcastle might have been six or seven up on a lacklustre West Ham but had to settle for just two, Cabaye’s wonderfully-placed shot and an alert Loic Remy effort which made all of those concerns about his profligate recent displays look a tad hysterical.
Newcastle’s defensive carelessness allowed West Ham back into the game as Cole scrambled an undeserved strike for the home side in stoppage time.
They took that as a cue for a fierce second-half fightback as Pardew’s side dropped off after the interval.
That is a charge often levelled at the Newcastle boss but it must be acknowledged a tactical change shored things up for the visitors.
Shola Ameobi may not have a Premier League goal to his name but he made a crucial contribution to turning the tide back in Newcastle’s favour.
Cabaye’s brilliant stoppage-time effort reminded us of the real story of the game though: a pleasing victory of craft over graft.