Good news: Deadly Demba's scoring streak revives Newcastle… Bad news: That 7.5m release clause has the big boys circling (again)
11:35 GMT, 4 December 2012
Two-goals up at half-time against 10 men and cruising to victory, the message from Alan Pardew was clear. Any niggles, strains or pulls and you’re coming off.
And so, against his normal judgement, Cheick Tiote put his hand up for the hook at half-time to preserve his weary limbs, and when Davide Santon and Jonas Gutierrez felt twinges and knocks, they made the sign to the physios and missed parts of the second half, too.
Demba Ba’s tightening of his hamstring in the last 10 minutes left Newcastle United down to 10 men for the closing moments of last night’s 3-0 win over Wigan Athletic. Caution rather than concern was the verdict of Pardew, who has his eyes on Newcastle continuing their resurgence at Fulham next Monday night. He expects Ba to be there.
Spot on: Demba Ba drills home his penalty for Newcastle to put them ahead against Wigan
Catch me if you can: Ba is joint-top of the Premier League scoring charts this season
Whether the Newcastle boss will have to get used to seeing his team without Deadly Demba remains to be seen now. Pardew knows he is in for an anxious six weeks.
Ba has yet to be persuaded to sign a new deal which will bury the 7.5million release clause contained in his initial contract from summer 2011.
Newcastle have been locked in negotiations with Ba’s representatives for some time, but there is understood to be a significant gap between the wage deal the club are prepared to offer and Ba’s demands.
And with that stalemate hanging in the air, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool are hovering and perhaps finally ready to offer a more lucrative sanctuary to a player who has already scored 10 goals this season. And has allegedly not been playing that well.
Pardew swapped his players around last night to enable Ba to play as the central attacker in a team which blitzed Wigan after the unfortunate and harsh dismissal of Maynor Figueroa.
Fans' favourite: The St James' Park faithful are desperate to see their star man stay
Papiss Cisse was shifted to the right, with Jonas Gutierrez well advanced on the left, and there was even the sign of Cisse and Ba combining together, communicating and reading each other’s movement. Newcastle’s opening goal originated from a terrific, instant one-two between the Senegal pair whose body language, on occasion, has not always been so positive.
Ba was on the hunt for his first hat-trick since October last year – when he delivered a message to Stoke City after they had rejected him over a dodgy medical – and was willing to shoot on the turn from the slightest gaps. He looked like a man brimming with confidence again.
No wonder Wigan captain Gary Caldwell, who was fortunate to avoid a red card for two assaults on the striker, was withdrawn at half-time.
It was a performance to alert the scouts up and down the Premier League. In a way, the best thing Newcastle can hope for is a revived Demba Ba. And we certainly saw that last night. But it’s the worst thing that can happen, too.
Pardew is confident the striker will stay. He will not be the only one at Newcastle hoping he is correct.
The Newcastle boss said: 'I have to say he has never looked me in the eye and said he wants to anything other than stay here and I hope he does.’
Proud moment: Gael Bigirimana celebrates
It’s been the land that football forgot so far this season, but this week the North East is the land of opportunity.
For Newcastle United’s younger players, it is a week to grow and reinforce their manager’s faith in them.
They will travel to Bordeaux relaxed and in considerably better shape and heart after their demolition of 10-man Wigan at St James’s Park last night.
Pardew, a place in the first knock-out round of the Europa League secured, has always said he would blood a young team in France on Thursday night.
With just a three-day turnaround, and the more important visit to Fulham to ponder on Monday night, he will leave senior players at home, rest the weary limbs which were not risked in the latter stages against Wigan, and dip into his squad.
It’s difficult to pick the team which will try and beat Girondins de Bordeaux and clinch top spot in their qualifying group. But we can expect to see Gael Bigirimana’s beaming smile once again in the Stade Chaban Delmas.
The teenager from Coventry City was joy unfounded when he scored his brilliant goal to seal last night’s win and could not wipe the smile from his face when he was greeted by coach John Carver by the side of the pitch after the game. And you could feel his delight spreading round the ground.
The majority of Newcastle fans may believe the club should have spent more, and brought in more quality during the summer, but they have still welcomed the likes of Bigirimana with open arms.
Injuries and the European campaign have forced Pardew to blood his young bloods in difficult circumstances, but it is to the entire squad’s credit that the changes and tweeks did not harm their European campaign while they were stuttering in the Premier League.
Wonder goal: Bigirimana's effort soars into the top corner
And it is on domestic duties that the fringe players have struggled to make their impact. Until last night anyway.
Everywhere you looked, the newest recruits were coming of age. As well as Bigirimana’s goal, Shane Ferguson put in his most effective Premier League performance and Sammy Ameobi could enjoy his brief cameo.
The biggest revelation was Vurnon Anita. Pardew may have expected the Dutchman to be a sure starter in France but his superb display against Wigan as Cheick Tiote’s stand-in, make him a vital player of a heavy league programme.
Pardew said: `It has been difficult for the young players. They have come in when the experienced players have not been playing well. Anita was outstanding. I have to pay credit to him.
'He came over from the Dutch champions and must have wondered what it was all about because we couldn’t win a game because he wasn’t part of it last season. So it was great to see him on a winning side.’
And opportunities at Sunderland too, if injuries work against Martin O’Neill.
If Steven Fletcher is unable to face Chelsea on Saturday, he too will have to turn to the benchwarmers to find alternatives to his top scorer. Fletcher is the only striker to have scored for Sunderland this season.
On Sunday, at last, the Sunderland manager turned to Connor Wickham, rather than Louis Saha or Fraizer Campbell, and he was rewarded with a vastly improved performance from the England Under 21 striker. He may not have scored, but Wickham, according to his manager, put in an impressive shift.
Ray of hope: Sunderland will hope that Connor Wickham can start firing
Enough to give O’Neill the impression he was right to block a loan move out of the club, and perhaps enough to indicate he could be a Premier League striker.
Facing Chelsea as the lone striker is a considerable step up, but at least O’Neill knows he can turn to a striker who is hungry because he knows he has yet to live up to his 8million fee.
And let’s face it he has few other options who have shown they can make the step up at all from the bench so far this season.