Monday, September 26, 2011

Demba raises the Ba

Newcastle Utd 3 - 1 Blackburn Rovers

Perhaps this is a bit rash, but maybe - just maybe - we don't need the big-money big-name striker we were craving after all. Amidst all of the hoopla surrounding our deadline day failings, the fact that we'd already signed a new striker earlier in the summer was largely ignored. And on Saturday a post-Ramadan, fully-fit and sharp Demba Ba belatedly announced his arrival at St James' Park in style, his hat-trick enough to bring to an end our embarrassing sequence of home defeats to Blackburn and leave them looking for a new lucky hotel. Meanwhile, at Anfield, his £35m predecessor Rocky was once again firing blanks...

Encouraging performances in midweek from Hatem Ben Arfa, Peter Lovenkrands and Sylvain Marveaux gave Alan Pardew selection dilemmas of the pleasant sort, but in the end he opted to stick with the same XI that had deserved victory at Villa Park - the decision to prefer Ba to Ben Arfa or Lovenkrands in particular proving justified.

Steve Kean seemed to have identified Yohan Cabaye as our dangerman, understandably so given his performance at Villa, but Ba was one of several players in black and white to benefit from this narrow focus. Right from the off, the Senegal international looked much less like the lethargic below-par Big Lad of early season and much more the powerful all-action striker who seemed to take up West Ham's cause on his own last year. He shot over from the edge of the area early on but had found the net twice before the first half-hour was out. First, he controlled a cross from striker partner Leon O'Best, swivelled and lashed a shot past Rovers 'keeper Paul Robinson and then, three minutes later, nodded home unmarked when Steven Taylor's header back across the six-yard box caused panic.

Plain sailing - or so we thought for all of seven minutes, when tricky winger Junior Hoilett fired high into Tim Krul's goal from just inside the area. On this showing, and on the strength of his early-season displays, we're right to have identified the Canadian as a potential target. The setback didn't faze us, though, and Obertan Kenobe came close to restoring the two-goal advantage as the interval approached.

The early part of the second half proved crucial, with Rovers' Martin Olsson's lucky effort bouncing off the top of the crossbar as Krul floundered before Ba completed his treble at the other end, his header drifting in despite the attentions of defenders and 'keeper. Remarkably, it was the fourth hat-trick at home by a Newcastle player since we returned to the Premier League in August 2010.

Olsson's afternoon then got worse, the Swede dismissed for a second bookable offence after fouling O'Best, and we set about piling on the misery for the visitors. That we were unable to do so - despite decent efforts from O'Best, Ben Arfa (on for Ba, to rapturous applause for both), Cabaye and Obertan - was a little unfortunate, but nevertheless it was great to see our hitherto solid but unspectacular side showing so much attacking verve and purpose.

Saturday lunchtime's League Cup draw had seen us paired with the Lancastrians, and on the evidence of what followed we should certainly fancy our chances, even though the game's at Ewood Park. In terms of the Premier League, though, we're sitting pretty in fourth, two points clear of Rocky and Jose Enrique's Liverpool. Bigger challenges and "bombs" are yet to come, no doubt, but for the time being at least we should just enjoy it.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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