It felt like a death march, Papiss Cissé, withdrawn after 70 minutes, was forced to walk the best part of 60 yards, tail tucked between his legs, sympathy falling from the same stands, from which, last season, came adoration.
At least they have not forgotten the 13 goals that he produced in the 14 games he played during that debut campaign, after joining in January, but it felt a long time ago on a painful afternoon.
Indeed, goodwill proved his downfall yesterday. The desire from his team-mates to help him rediscover the accuracy that blew some of the best Premier League defences apart may yet prove to have had the opposite effect.
Alan Pardew admitted afterwards that he wanted one of his two regular penalty takers, Demba Ba and Hatem Ben Arfa, to take the penalty. That may have happened had the Newcastle manager not been serving the final game of a two-match touchline ban for pushing referee’s assistant Peter Krikup during his side’s victory over Tottenham last month.
As a result, when Newcastle won a penalty in first-half added time, neither Ba or Ben Arfa took the kick. It was a fascinating moment.
Ba had bemoaned the fact Ben Arfa had taken the ball, in a moment of confidence during that Spurs game, to score from 12 yards. Thus this time, when Steve Morison upended Mike Williamson, Ba went looking for the ball, only to find the stand-in captain Jonas Gutierrez with it. He gave it to Ben Arfa and in turn, after deliberation, he tossed it to Cissé. The forward then blasted the penalty over John Ruddy’s crossbar and his confidence seemed to go with it.
“I like my penalty takers to take it, that would be a start,” said Pardew. “I could understand the group giving it to Papiss. It talks about the spirit in the group that they wanted him to score but it wasn’t what I wanted.
“I understand why they did that. They want Papiss to score. Players look after players. They genuinely wanted him to score the goal. The fact he missed it was a blow to the group. We felt it in the dressing room at half-time. That was why it was important to ignore it.
“It happens to strikers. They have little lulls here and there. I’m not going to blame Papiss. He’s not firing at the moment, he had three good chances he would have scored in training. It shows what pressure can do but he will come good again.”
In contrast, and as happened on his arrival, as the form of one Senegalese forward dips, so another soars. Ba now has four goals from four Premier League starts and three in his last two appearances. He was a problem Norwich never really figured out, latching onto a fine pass from Ben Arfa in the 19th minute and, with a touch and a smart finish from 18 yards out, won Newcastle the game. Pardew said afterwards that there had been a conversation with Ba’s agent to clear the air after the quotes which suggested last week he would look to find a solution if his player was left on the substitutes’ bench again.
There is at least fire in his belly. His goal was good, his work-rate was good, and only because of the outstanding contribution of Ben Arfa was he not Newcastle’s most important player. “There were four or five moments from Hatem that you could put in a World Cup,” added Pardew.
Ben Arfa remains one of the most pleasing Premier League players on the eye, particularly for the delicacy of his touch.
Norwich did not have that kind of player, but they were genuine and honest and embodied the ethos of manager, Chris Hughton, who was afforded a great reaction from the Newcastle fans who have not forgotten the job he did in leading the club to promotion in 2010.
“It was always one I was looking forward to,” said Hughton. “The reception was excellent and I’m absolutely delighted. What I wanted was for it to be an even better day. That would have been for us to get a result that, on the balance of play, as the away team, we probably deserved.
“I enjoyed coming back but it was about the team. They put in a really good shift.”
Andrew Surman came as close as they managed all afternoon, just after the interval, but when he was sent clear through, Steve Harper produced an excellent save. Newcastle became restless, Cissé missed a couple of chances he would probably have scored last season and, in two days, they must face Manchester United. It has been a relentless start.Reuse content