Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The late, great Papiss Cisse

Newcastle Utd 1 - 0 Crystal Palace

Just when it looked as though we'd fail to find the net for a second successive game against relegation candidates from the capital, up popped Papiss Cisse to score in stoppage time for a remarkable sixth time in his Newcastle career. Not that the identity of the goalscorer wasn't a surprise - he had been thwarted on several occasions previously and seemed destined to draw yet another blank in his quest to score a first Premier League goal from open play since April last year.

The fact that the team was unchanged from the appalling defeat at Fulham might have been interpreted as the Silver Fox demanding they make amends, but - with Mathieu Debuchy, Davide Santon and Loic Remy all out - the truth is that the options available were limited. Remy's continued absence was the most keenly felt, given how hopelessly ineffective Cisse and nominal strike partner Luuk de Jong were at Craven Cottage, and how we had failed to score in all six of the previous matches the on-loan Frenchman had missed. There was at least some cause for optimism, though, with the return to the bench of HBA.

In the initial stages, Mr T appeared to have taken on the burden of breaking the deadlock himself, attempting no fewer than three shots in the first five minutes. None of them troubled Julian Speroni in the Palace goal, and the pattern was set.

The visitors had had to travel to Wearside the previous weekend, when a resolute rearguard action saw them escape with a goalless draw and a potentially valuable point. Tony Pulis seemed to send his side out at St James' Park with exactly the same objective. Cameron Jerome was left to forage around after balls into the channels alone up front and did well to unsettle Mike Williamson and Sideshow Bob, heading wide when well placed at one point. Otherwise, their only threat came from Yannick Bolasie, who, like Fulham's Ashkan Dejagah last Saturday, enjoyed terrorising a frequently backpedalling MYM.

It was Cisse, though, who looked the likeliest to break the deadlock and raise the quiet crowd from their slumbers, first working space before firing straight at Speroni and later meeting the galloping Moussa Sissoko's right-wing cross with an instinctive shot that the 'keeper pawed away. There was precious little else to admire, other than Mr T's ability to always find space (perhaps Palace were content in the knowledge of his powers of distribution) and Mini V's gentle prompting alongside and ahead of him.

As Fulham had, Palace emerged after the interval apparently appreciative that only a slight increase in effort and intensity would be all that would be required to claim the victory. It didn't last long, thankfully, though during that period Bolasie stepped inside MYM and hit a shot that flicked the top of the bar. When the winger was the first opposing player to be withdrawn, we couldn't believe our luck.

By that point, we'd introduced our own tricky talent, HBA, leaving de Jong to rue another dud performance. For the most part, the new man flattered to deceive down the right, cutting inside and thereby playing straight into the hands of his right-footed marker Joel Ward. Even when he did escape Ward's attentions, Palace had doubled up on him and all too often he wasted possession or took on an ill-advised shot.

In the centre, Cisse was admirably persistent, forcing Speroni into an excellent smothering save low to his right, heading over the bar and - after Mr T had walloped the bar from range and MYM had squared the rebound - miskicking right in front of goal.

Would the goal ever come? Yes, it would - and shortly after Palace were appealing for a handball against Williamson at the other end of the pitch. HBA worked his way infield, teasing defenders before playing in a clever cross for Cisse to head home.

Harsh on the visitors, perhaps, but then for the most part they'd been happy for us to show the greater will to win and must have left kicking themselves at passing up a (possibly unexpectedly) golden opportunity to pull clear of the relegation zone. As for us, we climbed back into eighth, and stayed there thanks to another stoppage-time goal on Sunday - Gylfi Sigurdsson's strike for Spurs capping a fine comeback over Southampton.

Everton are next up at St James', and we'll certainly have to play much better than this if we want to avoid defeat against a side who, as usual, are mixing it with the big spenders above us in the table. Remy, like his manager, will miss the game, but will be back for the crunch trip to St Mary's at the weekend. In the meantime, here's hoping Cisse's finally rediscovered his mojo.

A Palace fan's perspective: Five Year Plan

Other reports: BBC, Observer

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