Newcastle v Benfica: Alan Pardew faces balancing act over role of Papiss Cissé
Tyne-Wear derby awaits after Europa League tie
The image of Papiss Cissé screaming in joy and jumping into the Gallowgate End, one captured by a razor sharp supporter, against Fulham at St James' Park on Sunday, went viral. It was the third successive home game the forward had scored a winning goal in injury-time. It could prove the defining moment of Newcastle's season.
A clumsy question, before the Europa League quarter-final second leg with Benfica, about whether Cissé was the one player who could never be substituted, brought a telling response from Alan Pardew, the Newcastle manager.
"Of course it's possible to substitute him," he said. "I've got Adam Campbell and Shola [Ameobi] breathing down his neck. That is the competition he has with Hatem [Ben Arfa] coming back. I think this is going to be a 14-man game. I will use 14 players, and whatever I feel is needed in that last period of the game, if Papiss needs to be refreshed, he will be."
Playing the full game (it could be 120 minutes) as sole, goalscoring centre-forward is not an option. But bringing Cissé on towards the closing stages is.
If the match is 0-0 with 20 minutes to go (Newcastle trail 3-1 from the first leg), throwing on Cissé could prove more effective. There is also the Premier League to consider. If Newcastle lose to Sunderland on Sunday, the gap between the two North-east teams will be two points, thrusting them back into a relegation fight that promises to have a brutal conclusion. Going down is not on the agenda, so Pardew has to plot the most precarious of paths. History on one hand (Newcastle have not won a major trophy since 1969), a huge step towards safety via a derby victory on the other.
"There would be clubs who would give their right arm to be where we are," he said. "We want to win by two goals and go through. The mentality is good. We must score twice without conceding. Every player wants to give everything. Unless you are one of the four or five biggest clubs in the country, to get to the quarter-final is something special. Our view is we were unlucky in Portugal.
"You never know [what will happen]. Looking at the Dortmund coach [Jürgen Klopp] he was in tears at the end of game. Would I be in tears? Possibly. We just want to do the best we can, and the best we can is to go through.
"If ever there was a week to underline that a game is never over it's this one, with our goal against Fulham, the late equaliser by Wigan [against QPR], and then the two goals at Dortmund. It was astonishing. It has given us a real sense of belief."
Pardew cannot play a full strength side. Steven Taylor is out with a knee injury but should be back on Sunday and Cheick Tioté will also not play, but will against Sunderland. Deciding what to do with Cissé, his only regular goalscorer, is proving more tricky.
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