Newcastle United’s European hopes were given a significant boost with an away victory against West Brom – a result which brought an end to a run of five games without a win for the Toon.
The spring sun seemed to bring out the best in the club’s continental players as Newcastle played some champagne football in the opening 45 minutes against the Baggies. It was some of the best attacking play the team have produced all season with a goal looking likely every time they went forward. Despite selecting the same starting XI that featured against a Norwich, some tactical tinkering by Alan Pardew produced a much more fluent performance. The attacking trio of Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba and Hatem Ben Arfa all linked up superbly, regularly interchanging positions.
It was the latter in particular who really stood out, with Newcastle’s mercurial number ten at his dazzling best. Ben Arfa has the talent to be one of the stars of the Premier League and the signs are that he is returning to the form he was enjoying several years ago. It appears his manager is now happy for him to start matches on a regular basis. An improved attitude and a willingness to track back into his own half of the field are also positive signs for the future. Against West Brom, Ben Arfa was simply unplayable when on the ball with his dribbling skills causing panic for the home side. There are still times when he is too greedy with the ball but it will be forgiven if he continues to come up with goals and assists.
The only negative to take from the game was Fabricio Coloccini’s failure to re-emerge for the second half. The captain appeared to be struck with a hamstring problem that was simply not worth risking at this crucial stage of the campaign. The result of his withdrawal was a nervy second half display with the away side’s three-goal lead never looking entirely comfortable. In the captain’s absence James Perch moved across to partner Mike Williamson in central defence but it was not a convincing partnership. With no other central defenders at his disposal, Pardew will be praying that Coloccini has only a minor injury to contend with. If not, a failure to land another defender in January may prove costly.
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