A 3-1 victory over West Brom shows Tyneside club are not just a one-goal threat as they draw level with Chelsea on points.
Europe on Pardew's horizon for Newcastle United
BIRMINGHAM // Newcastle United continue to exceed their own wildest expectations. A quality performance of counter-attacking puts them eight points ahead of Liverpool and behind Champions League quarter-finalists Chelsea only on goal difference.
"To have the same number of points at this stage with Chelsea is phenomenal," Alan Pardew, the manager, said. His horizons are expanding. Tyneside should host European football next season.
Newcastle, however, are making a habit of raiding the continent profitably, Papiss Cisse's two-goal display providing confirmation of their golden touch in the transfer market. He has now scored five times in six matches since his £9 million (Dh52m) move from Freiburg; but for a fine save from Ben Foster, he would have had a hat-trick and an average of a goal a game in his brief Newcastle career.
In the process, the reliance on Demba Ba has been eased. From one goal threat, Newcastle suddenly have three, with the enigmatic Hatem Ben Arfa the other catalyst. Scorer of one, he would have had another but for the excellent Foster and brought invention and incision.
"Hatem was really difficult to play against and some of his runs were incredible," Pardew said. "You need outstanding players to win games here and our best players stepped forward."
The goalscorers were the common denominators, linking up in swift, speedy moves. Newcastle boast a turn of pace and were quick to make their mark.
They effectively condemned West Brom to defeat inside 12 minutes, courtesy of a role reversal between Ben Arfa and Cisse, supplier and scorer and then vice versa. Ben Arfa was the provider first, picked out by Jonas Gutierrez with a slide-rule pass and squaring the ball for the predatory Cisse to finish.
Then the Frenchman led a break of devastating pace and potency from his own penalty area, exchanging passes with the Senegalese striker before jinking infield and whipping a shot in.
Their combination brought a third goal, Cisse drilling in a shot after Ben Arfa cut the ball back from the goal line, having been supplied by Ba.
"We were 3-0 down after three counter-attacks," said Roy Hodgson, the West Brom manager. "At half time, we are staring down the barrel of a gun." His double substitution worked, one of the newcomers, Shane Long, promptly capitalising on an embarrassing mix-up between Mike Williamson and Tim Krul to score.
The more telling blow to Newcastle, however, was the departure of the hamstrung Fabricio Coloccini. "To lose him probably for the next two or three games will hurt us," Pardew said. This, however, has been a season of little pain and plenty of gain for United.