Final Score: Newcastle United 3, Wigan Athletic 0
FOR Newcastle United’s first fixture of December it was fitting that the festive colour of red helped to end a frustrating run of defeats at St James’ Park.
Rather than the bearded man wearing a suit paying an early visit to Tyneside, it was the card referee Michael Jones delivered which provided the Magpies with the ideal gift.
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After four successive Premier League defeats – two of which were at home – Newcastle finally returned to winning ways after making the most of the extra man for 78 minutes of the game.
There were question marks over whether Wigan’s Maynor Figueroa deserved to be dismissed for the challenge on striker Papiss Cisse in the penalty area.
Once Jones had issued the Honduran defender with a straight red and Demba Ba had slotted in the first of his two first-half goals, the Magpies never looked back.
And substitute Gael Bigirimana sealed the win with a stunning third 19 minutes from time, even if the victory was tinged by seeing Ba and Davide Santon having to limp off through injury.
Wigan, wearing red for the first time since a promotion season back in 2003, spent the first-half trying to come to terms with being a man short and Newcastle looked full of renewed vigour.
There might have been signs of encouragement during last Wednesday’s defeat at Stoke City, but the manner of that reversal could have had lingering effects after conceding two late goals.
Instead Newcastle quickly established themselves on Wigan. The visitors might have forced an early save from Tim Krul through Franco di Santo’s curling distance drive, but after that things went to plan for the hosts.
Cisse had been asked to play on the right of a three-man supply line behind Ba, but he found himself right in the thick of things centrally inside 12 minutes.
When Vurnon Anita, a lively presence in the middle throughout in the absence of the suspended James Perch and injured Yohan Cabaye, fed the ball in to Ba there was still work to be done.
But Ba’s clever pass between the Wigan backline sent his compatriot in on goal.
In Figueroa’s attempts to get back, the two players went shoulder to shoulder and Cisse ended up sprawled on the floor.
There was definite contact, but it was the sort of challenge that would have been deemed an oldfashioned shoulder barge not too long ago. Last night, not only did it end in a spot-kick, it also cost Wigan a key defender.
During a season when Newcastle have been robbed of important players through injuries and suspensions, perhaps manager Alan Pardew was due a slice of good fortune.
And after Ba had powerfully dispatched the penalty low inside Ali Al- Habsi’s bottom right corner, he was soon celebrating a second shortly after.
This time Santon was the architect of the goal.
The Italian made the most of the space in front of him by cutting inside from the left before his drive from 25 yards was poorly dealt with by Al- Habsi. Ba pounced to slot the rebound underneath the Wigan goalkeeper.
A night which had started with a few nerves suddenly had an air of relief hanging around it and it seemed only a question of how many goals Newcastle would get.
It did not work out quite like that, even though Wigan should have been reduced to nine men nine minutes before half-time. Latics skipper Gary Caldwell had already received a caution for chopping down Ba when he did it again just outside the penalty area.
With Wigan already down to ten men and everyone expecting Caldwell to follow Figueroa in to the dressing room early, referee Jones only had a word with the former Newcastle defender.
Playing against ten men suited Frenchman Sylvain Marveaux. Back in the team to provide more attacking verve with Perch missing, he fulfilled the task placed in front of him.
After a slow start Marveaux – who had already seen an earlier shot turned away for a corner – started to identify spaces to run in to with the ball and a couple of his mazy runs almost added a third after the interval.
The second in particular also showed he has an eye for a pass. After twisting and turning beyond a couple of players, he rolled to the unmarked Bigirimana just inside the penalty area.
Bigirimana, on as a precautionary half-time replacement for Cheik Tiote who sits a yellow card away from a ban, stung the palms of Al-Habsi and Newcastle remained two up.
The 19-year-old did not have to wait much longer for his first Premier League goal.
The half chance arrived from Marveaux once more.
This time, in a similar position, he put the ball on to his left foot before curling a ferocious shot high over Al- Habsi to make it three in style.
After failing to win a single Premier League game during a nasty November, Newcastle avoided starting December red faced by halting their worst losing run in four years.