Ba up to speed after fast slowed his progress

Newcastle 3 Blackburn 1
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The Independent Online

Eight months on from Andy Carroll's £35m departure to Liverpool, the sacred No 9 jersey remains unfilled at Newcastle. In the No 19 shirt, however, Alan Pardew's high-flying Magpies have a priceless forward who has made a groundbreaking mark on the scoring front.

A free transfer signing from West Ham in the summer, Demba Ba is the first overseas player to score a hat-trick in a Premier League match for Newcastle. In fact, given that Colombian Faustino Asprilla's famous treble against Barcelona in 1997 came in the Champions League, the Senegal striker, from Paris, is the first foreigner to achieve the feat for the Magpies in a domestic top-flight fixture since 15 September 1951. George Robledo scored four in a 7-1 rout of Burnley at St James' that day.

The stocky Chilean forged a formidable striking partnership with Jackie Milburn on Tyneside but began his career at Barnsley, which happened to be where Ba first attempted to make the grade in England in 2004. Seven years on from an unsuccessful trial at Oakwell, and a subsequent failure to make the first-team at Watford, Ba has started to pick up with Newcastle where he left off with West Ham.

The 26-year-old bagged seven goals in 12 Premier League games for the Hammers and, after four barren appearances for Newcastle (two from the bench), he opened his account for his new club with a vengeance on Saturday, swivelling to curl a right foot shot past Paul Robinson and finishing off a hapless Blackburn side with two headers.

According to Alan Pardew, who has guided the new-look Newcastle into fourth place on a run of six unbeaten league games (eight in all competitions), the devout Muslim got off to a "slowish" start because he was fasting during Ramadan. "I have been doing it since I was young, so it is not new to me," Ba said. "I will not quit doing it. My faith is where I get my confidence and my energy from."

As for Pardew, he has faith both in Ba's fitness (despite the failed medical that scuppered the player's proposed move from Hoffenheim to Stoke in January) and in his ability to keep scoring. "He is a poacher," the Newcastle manager said. "I said when he signed that he would score me goals. He's always on the move in the box."

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