Newcastle Club Focus – Mixed fortunes for Ben Arfa and Ba as Magpies enjoy free weekend

Newcastle’s players can enjoy a well-deserved break as they are without a game this weekend. This follows a highly successful Easter period where the Magpies picked up maximum points from their two games. As a result the team have progressed from top four outsiders to being very much in the running with only five games to go. It is debatable whether Newcastle need a break given their recent purple patch – winning five games in succession and conceding just the one goal. With a lengthy injury list however, it is probably a blessing in disguise.

In their last game the Magpies were not at their best but still managed to clinch another three points. This has been a recurring event all season as there have been a number of occasions where Alan Pardew’s men have struggled but still remained in contention. Against a Bolton side fighting for their lives at the bottom of the table, there was little of the ‘champagne’ football that has been played in recent weeks. Instead the match boiled down to a moment of brilliance from one individual.

The individual in question was Hatem Ben Arfa who picked up the ball in his own half, beat four opposition players and then calmly slotted the ball into the net. It is a late contender for goal of the season although in truth it was not as good as another solo effort he scored against Blackburn in the cup. Ben Arfa is now the club’s third top scorer with six goals, an impressive effort given his lack of game time.

His manager Alan Pardew deserves a lot of credit for the way in which he was handled the talented yet combustible Frenchman. In his early career Ben Arfa had a reputation for being a divisive figure in the dressing room, clashing with managers and team mates. Since moving to the North East however, there appears to have been none of his famous histrionics. Pardew has chosen to slowly build up his level of competitive action and has only played him from the start when fully match fit. He has also ensured that the former Marseille man does the ‘dirty’ side of the game by tracking back and helping his teammates.

Pardew has backed striker Demba Ba to rediscover his goalscoring touch following a long run without scoring (see Sky Sports). The Senegal forward has 16 goals to his name this season, but has not scored in his last nine games. In his previous two appearances he has been substituted early after struggling to make much of an impact. His manager believes however that his barren run is more down to luck than a lack of form. Pardew told Sky Sports: ”The first goal at West Brom, Demba must have been a centimetre away from scoring, and when Cisse scored the second goal, he was actually fouled as he was going to score and it fell to Cisse, so he has been a little bit unlucky.” Playing in a new position wide on the left has also limited Ba’s goalscoring potential.

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