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The secret of Cisse's success
ON Friday, curried goat was on the menu as Newcastle United staged 'Africa Day' at their training ground. Forty-eight hours later, and Senegalese striker Papiss Cisse proved the positive effects of the meal. To paraphrase an old terrace chant, “Feed him goat, and he will score”.
Cisse bagged both goals as the Magpies brushed aside Liverpool to move level on points with Chelsea and strengthen their claims for European qualification.
If a top-six position is sufficient to secure a Europa League place, Newcastle now look all but guaranteed to get it given the ten-point advantage they enjoy over seventh-placed Everton.
A Champions League position? Still unlikely after Tottenham beat Swansea yesterday, but hardly impossible as they trail Spurs by five points with seven games left.
Their form suggests they will finish the season strongly, with yesterday's win making it three league victories in succession for the first time under Alan Pardew.
Cisse's arrival in January helped generate momentum, and while the 26-year-old might still be settling into life on Tyneside, his impact on the pitch could hardly have been more impressive. He has scored seven goals in seven matches since making a £9m move from Freiburg.
“I thought his all-round performance was probably his best since he arrived at the club,” said Pardew. “Let alone the goals, his hold-up play was excellent, he gave Jamie Carragher a really tough game.
“His English still isn't great, I think he's only had one lesson since he's been here, but he's done ever so well. We had Africa Day at the training ground on Friday, with the food and everything, and that probably helped him. We had some curried goat so maybe that was why he was fuelled up.”
In contrast, Cisse's predecessor in the Newcastle number nine shirt continues to toil ineffectually. Yesterday's game marked Andy Carroll's first return to St James' Park since he left in a £35m move 14 months ago, and it did not go as planned.
The Gateshead-born striker was booked for diving, missed the target with a simple first-half header and disappeared straight down the tunnel when he was substituted with 11 minutes left.
He looks a pale imitation of the rampaging centre-forward that left the North-East, and Pardew admitted to a modicum of sympathy such was the paucity of Carroll's performance.
“I felt for Andy,” he said, after Carroll was mercilessly booed throughout. “He's a terrific lad having a tough year, but he'll come back.
“But we have a new number nine now. On our side of the coin, Cisse was terrific and long may that continue.”
Cisse was not the only Newcastle forward enjoying a successful afternoon as Hatem Ben Arfa had a hand in both goals as he maintained the fine form he displayed at West Brom last weekend.
Having flitted in and out of the side for much of the season, the Frenchman has started the Magpies' last four games to leave Pardew delighted with his maturity as much as his magic.
“Hatem was fit (earlier in the season) but wasn't actually match-fit and wasn't really sure of how we played and how the Premier League was in terms of where he should and shouldn't be,” said the Newcastle boss.
“He's listened to me and my staff and been very, very diligent. I was quite confident the penny would drop. It's an old-fashioned cliché, but I think it probably has with Hatem. I think now I could put him anywhere on the pitch and he'd know what to do.
“Nothing would give me more pleasure than for him to make the French squad (for Euro 2012), and I think he can. He's got some individual ability and if France were to add that to their squad, I'd be very pleased. Even if he was taken as an impact player, he's in great shape.”
Yesterday's match started a run of three games in eight days, with Newcastle travelling to Swansea on Good Friday before entertaining Bolton on Easter Monday.
“With ten games left, I said if we were in touching distance of the Europa League, let's give it a go,” said Pardew. “We've won three out of three now and have seven to go.
“We'll go to Swansea in really good shape, and hopefully we'll get enough points to get into Europe. If someone said to me now, 'You're going to be in the Europa League', I'd snap their hands off.”