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Cisse's back makes the difference for Magpies
PULLING THE TRIGGER: Sammy Ameobi hits a shot that deflected off Papiss Cisse to give Newcastle a dramatic win
GIVEN his fantastic form at the end of last season, there were fears earlier this summer that Papiss Cisse could turn his back on Newcastle United. Thank goodness that he did.
Toiling at the end of their worst second-half display of the season against West Brom, the Magpies were heading for a draw that would have done little to improve their mid-table position and allay concerns that the club's European schedule was affecting performances in the league.
With the clock ticking into the 93rd minute, substitute Sammy Ameobi fired in a speculative effort from 25 yards.
Cisse, loitering on the edge of the penalty area, had turned away from play. He didn't know his back was in the way of Ameobi's effort, but the ball cannoned off it to change direction and completely wrong-foot Ben Foster in the West Brom goal.
It was completely unintentional yet completely decisive. Thirty seconds later, and Chris Foy was blowing his whistle to bring the game to an end.
Newcastle were celebrating their third Premier League victory and a somewhat red-faced Cisse was acknowledging his first league goal since his wonder effort at Chelsea in the final month of last season. That was a goal that defied the laws of physics, but it still didn't change direction as radically as yesterday's success.
Cisse's unwitting intervention changed the course of both Ameobi's effort and a game that appeared to have slipped from Newcastle's grasp.
Leading through Demba Ba's volleyed effort in the 35th minute, the Magpies ended the first half in a position of considerable comfort.
They had controlled the opening 45 minutes with an air of calm authority, and while Tim Krul had to produce two excellent saves to deny a rampaging Romelu Lukaku, there had been much to admire in Newcastle's slick first-half play.
The second half, however, was a completely different story. The hosts never got going, and after Lukaku headed home a deserved West Brom equaliser in the 55th minute, it was a case of one-way traffic towards the Newcastle goal.
The Magpies appeared jaded after their midweek European exertions, hardly a positive situation given that their Europa League exploits now look all but certain to continue into next year as they stand on the verge of qualification for the knock-out phase, and they failed to record a single second-half attempt at goal prior to Ameobi's deflected effort.
Ultimately, their paucity after the break did not matter. They are back in the top half of the table and have still only lost to Chelsea and Manchester United this season.
But there must be a degree of concern at their failure to click into top gear domestically, and for all that Cisse's stoppage-time winner made a major difference to Alan Pardew's mood at the final whistle, the Magpies manager will be concerned at the disparity between this season's league performances and the swaggering displays that characterised last term.
The alternative view, of course, is that it is all about getting the job done, and for all that they produced some fantastic displays last term, it must also be remembered that Newcastle also recorded one-goal home wins against the likes of Fulham, Wigan, Aston Villa and Norwich. This league is often about fine margins, although they don't often come much finer than the one that was ultimately in United's favour yesterday.
Not, however, that things looked like being so dramatic for most of the first half. With Shola Ameobi, preferred to Cisse, pulling to the right and Hatem Ben Arfa pushing forward down the left, Newcastle initially reverted to the 4-3-3 formation that served them so well last term.
Ba wasted a decent opening in the 12th minute, directing a diving header wide at the back post after Ameobi delivered an inviting centre from the flank, and Davide Santon saw his fierce 30-yard effort turned around the post by Ben Foster.
Ben Arfa was Newcastle's most threatening performer in the opening stages, as he has been for the majority of the season, and his best moment came shortly after the half-hour mark as he ghosted past three Albion defenders close to the left touchline. His pull back picked out Shola Ameobi, but the striker slashed at a hurried left-footed effort that sailed harmlessly over the crossbar. Thankfully, for the hosts, Ameobi's next intervention was more telling.
For all of Newcastle's crisp first-half passing, the move that resulted in their breakthrough was an unrefined affair. Ameobi beat Jonas Olsson to flick on Krul's long clearance, but Gareth McAuley appeared well placed to deal with the danger.
However, the West Brom centre-half only succeeded in heading the ball towards his own goalmouth, and Ba swivelled adeptly to drill home a powerful first-time volley. The African now boasts seven goals in nine league matches this season.
Krul had already produced an excellent save to deny Lukaku by the time Newcastle went ahead – the Dutchman came off his line to parry the striker's shot after West Brom broke from one end of the field to the other – and the Magpies shot-stopper was called into action again five minutes before the break to thwart Lukaku for a second time after he raced on to Youssouf Mulumbu's through ball.
Lukaku, on loan from Chelsea, was not to be denied though, and he claimed the goal his dominant display deserved when he headed home Zoltan Gera's cross.
Bizarrely, Steve Clarke replaced the striker with 25 minutes left, but West Brom came close to a winner when substitute Shane Long stabbed Peter Odemwingie's low cross marginally too close to Krul.
That looked like being the final chance of the game, and it would have been had Cisse not drifted into Ameobi's path in the third minute of stoppage time. The £10m man has not done a lot right this season, but more through luck than judgement, he might just have changed the trajectory of Newcastle's campaign.