Sissoko at the fore as Newcastle's January recruits hit top gear

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WHEN Newcastle United signed five high-profile players from France last January, their transfer dealings were supposed to herald a radical transformation in the club's fortunes.

In one respect the ploy worked, as the arrival of Mathieu Debuchy, Massadio Haidara, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran helped the Magpies secure sufficient points to scramble across the line and retain their place in the top-flight. For most of the second half of last season, however, it did not feel like a revolution had occurred.

Fast forward six months, though, and when it comes to the January arrivals, things have a markedly different feel. Haidara and Yanga-Mbiwa might still struggle to hold down a place in the first team, but Debuchy is established as one of the most consistent right-backs in the Premier League, Sissoko is producing a series of rampaging displays from the right of midfield and Gouffran has scored three goals in his last three outings at St James' Park.

It might have taken a little longer than some had hoped, but Graham Carr's latest batch of overseas recruits are finally feeling at home.

“This is where I hoped we would get to when I joined,” said Sissoko, whose magnificent match winner against West Brom ended a run of 25 matches without a goal. “Last season was a really difficult time for Newcastle, but when we arrived we had a mission, and our mission was to make sure we got the points on the board to stay up.

“It was very hard, but we did it and we succeeded in our mission in that regard. Now, we've had a great pre-season under our belt and we're putting in some great performances. We don't want to see the same thing happen to us that happened last season. We've got some great players here, so we know we have the quality to make sure we can keep fighting for a high position in the league.

“In football, things can change very quickly and we are not going to be over-complacent about that. We know we need to go out there and fight to put points on the board, firstly to make sure we have enough points to stay in the Premier League, and then afterwards we will set ourselves objectives to make sure we can stay in the top ten or even higher.”

Newcastle briefly returned to the top five on Saturday evening, a remarkable achievement given they were as low as 16th after they conceded three goals in 45 calamitous first-half minutes at Everton in September.

Since then, they have won five of their last seven league games, with four of the victories coming in an unblemished November that could well see Alan Pardew crowned Manager of the Month.

Last month was an especially notable one for Newcastle's French contingent, who were also able to celebrate their country's World Cup play-off win over Ukraine.

With the likes of Dutchman Tim Krul, Argentinian Fabricio Coloccini and Nigerian Shola Ameobi also set to be involved in Brazil, the training-ground TVs at Benton will be tuned to Friday's World Cup draw, and Sissoko feels the tournament could have a positive effect on Newcastle's performances in the second half of the season.

“It's not just the French players that are looking forward to the World Cup,” he said. “Every player in the team and every nationality within the squad knows there is a World Cup coming up in the summer, and it is up to us to put in our best performances to make sure that everyone who wants to go to the World Cup can hopefully get on the plane to Brazil.”

Saturday's match winner saw Sissoko pick up a nod down from Loic Remy and hammer a swerving strike that arced into the top right-hand corner of the net. It was a stunning finish, and sparked a feverish celebration in the dug-out that started with substitute Vurnon Anita and eventually drew in various members of the Newcastle squad.

“I don't know if it's the best one ever, but it was definitely a really nice goal and I'm really happy to have scored it,” said Sissoko. “I get on really well with Vurnon in training and we have a great rapport. If one of us misses chances in training, we always have a joke with each other.

“The first thing that came to mind when I scored was to go and celebrate it with him. He was happy for me, and it was good to celebrate that together as a team.”


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