Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Demba Ba revives Newcastle faithful
Kristan Heneage, St James' Park
Demba Ba sent out a clear message he is happy to stay at Newcastle by scoring two of the goals that downed Wigan Athletic on Monday night.
Much of the day's conjecture had focused around yet more reports of the striker's potential departure from Tyneside. As with so many modern players, it was his Twitter account that was the focus; 'Here we go again' the tweet which expressed his opinion over the pre-match gossip. A talismanic season so far for the Senegal international has seen him score ten goals, and take the title from compatriot Papiss Demba Cisse for most potent 'Demba' on Tyneside.
An even opening was quickly swayed in favour of the home side just after the 15th minute, with Newcastle's penalty proving a game-changing decision. For home fans, the goal represented everything they had been yearning for: slick interplay involving Ba, Vurnon Anita and Cisse put the latter in on goal, before Maynor Figueroa bumped him off the ball to earn himself a straight red card. Giving a spot-kick looked controversial but in some ways understandable; the sending-off had to follow as soon as the referee blew for the foul.
Still, the successfully converted penalty allowed Ba to engage with his adoring public - while giving Cheick Tiote a chance to whip them into a frenzy - as he celebrated. However, even with a man advantage and a sizeable portion of the game to go, Newcastle failed to look comfortable. In part this was due to a confidence sapping barren run of form, but should not downplay some impressive ball retention from the ten-men of Wigan on the night.
If the away side remained positive, much of the reason is down to the man at the helm. Criticism is not something Roberto Martinez allows into his spectrum of coaching - unconditional positive reinforcement is the preferred approach, mainly through clapping. It's a mantra that has seen Wigan overcome seemingly insurmountable odds in previous seasons, with Monday night's performance proving that, if they maintain their level of performance, another season in the Premier League seems likely.
As the match pressed on, Wigan were steady if never truly dangerous. James McArthur's reminder to Ronnie Stam to 'pass, pass, pass' was a subtle if not esoteric insight into Wigan's ideology, but one which worked well given how often the ten-men were able to make their opponents chase the ball.
The evening, which was shrouded in the often cold weather of Tyneside, also saw Gary Caldwell return to the club his career began at. While brother Steven made the first team, Gary sadly did not and it will be a night he'll be keen to forget after picking up his fifth booking of the season for scything down Ba.
Caldwell had been placed on a final warning by referee Mike Jones and with the Latics in danger of being reduced to nine men, Martinez chose to substitute the centre-back at the break. But Wigan will now be without Caldwell when they host Queens Park Rangers at the weekend.
For Newcastle, Ba was the focal point. Dropping deep, playing on the shoulder, he gravitated between trequartista and poacher which is both a blessing and a curse given how dependant Newcastle seem on him in the attacking third.
Yet still the rumours persist. Ask a Newcastle fan if they want to sell Ba and you'll be met with a negative response. However, they are also no longer naive enough to believe any player is guaranteed an extended stay on Tyneside - the lack of suitors for Ba during the summer doing little to allay the concerns of those with a pessimistic or realistic stance - depending on your perception.
The former Hoffenheim striker would depart the game in the final throes through injury amid a chorus of his name from around the ground, but not before Newcastle could add a third through one of the club's youngsters. Gael Bigirimana, or 'Tiote Junior' as some fans have called him due to his somewhat similar appearance, was also dubbed 'one of the nicest at the club' by Pardew - his fingers pointing to the sky in celebration acted as further proof of the religion orientated life he leads.
The last time Newcastle lost four games in a row they were relegated, but there were far more unique variables present in 2008 - most notably a chronic instability from the playing staff upwards. A 3-0 win ensured that the recent run of bad form had been stopped, but of course, if there is to be a positive for Newcastle there must also be a contrast. The loss of the impressive Davide Santon and Tiote to injury is a concern ahead of games against Bordeaux and Fulham in the next seven days. January spending is now a necessity rather than an option.