Newcastle United 3 Blackburn Rovers 1

THE start of Demba Ba's Newcastle United career was affected by his observance of Ramadan, the holy Islamic month that demands fasting during daylight hours. Unable to eat or drink, Ba's energy levels dropped and Newcastle's manager, Alan Pardew, felt unable to play the striker as much as he would have liked.

Yet speak to Ba, who opened his Magpies goalscoring account with an accomplished hat-trick during Saturday's 3-1 win over Blackburn Rovers, and he will attempt to play down the impact of his self-imposed sacrifice.

First, Ramadan is nothing new for a devout 26-year-old who has been adhering to the tenets of his faith all his life. And second, when it comes to hunger of a different kind, Ba has been displaying it throughout his footballing career.

Born in France to Senegalese parents, the powerful forward travelled to England for trials with Charlton and Watford in 2004. Charlton didn't want to know him. Watford did, but only until Aidy Boothroyd replaced Ray Lewington as manager and decided that Ba was unable to cope with the demands of the English game.

Lesser characters would have crumbled, but Ba returned to France and embarked on an itinerant career that took him to Rouen, Mouscron and Hoffenheim before he was finally offered a route back to England. Even that wasn't simple, though, with the striker failing a medical at Stoke City before finally joining West Ham.

Once career; countless setbacks. Yet thanks to unshakeable self-belief and fierce determination, he has now joined an illustrious list of players to have scored a hat-trick for Newcastle.

"I was always determined I would make it in the end," said Ba, whose weekend goals maintained the Magpies' unbeaten start to the season and kept them in fourth position in the Premier League table. "I wasn't going to give up just because one or two people said no to me.

"I was always going to keep trying. I wasn't too disappointed about not making it at Watford as it was still a very valuable experience and I learned a lot there. What else could I do? They didn't want me, but I knew other people would.

"I think what's happened since proves just how determined I was to be a footballer. I did everything I could to try to get to the position I am in now, so I am going to make sure I do everything I can to enjoy it."

That means revelling in his status as Newcastle's new attacking hero, and Ba sported a smile as wide as the River Tyne when he left St James' Park on Saturday night with a match ball signed by the entire Magpies squad tucked under his arm.

But it also means continuing to respect and nurture the faith that clearly means so much to him, and that undoubtedly affected the opening month of his Newcastle career as he started just one of the opening four league matches.

"Sometimes it (fasting) doesn't affect you at all, sometimes you start feeling a bit tired," said Ba. "But it is not something that is new to me - I have been doing this for a long time.

"I am used to it and it is something that is very important to me. My faith is where I get my confidence and energy from. I will not quit doing this because I can't."

With Ramadan finishing at the end of August, the issue will not resurface until next year, which can only be viewed as a positive development from a Newcastle perspective.

Prior to Saturday, Ba's arrival on a free transfer from West Ham was one of the more unheralded of the club's summer transfer moves. The striker had shown little of the power and prowess he displayed in flashes at Upton Park, and it was becoming hard to justify his place in the team despite the failure to land a high-profile forward at the end of the transfer window.

Suddenly, though, his status is altered. Just as opinions about so many Newcastle players are being reassessed in the wake of a superb start, so initial judgements on Ba are being hastily rewritten.

His first goal at the weekend was as good anything you will see all season, with the forward cushioning Leon Best's left-wing delivery, turning adroitly to outdo Scott Dann, and rifling a ferocious drive into the roof of the net.

He was at it again three minutes later, heading home from close range after Steven Taylor headed on Danny Simpson's cross, and completed his hat-trick nine minutes after the interval as he produced a looping back-post header to convert Cheik Tiote's centre.

"Demba said when I signed him that he was going to come here and fight for the team," said Pardew. "You have to acknowledge not just his goals, but his all-round play. Him and Besty had as good a game as a strike-force as any strikers since I've been at the club."

Ba's goals crowned another impressive performance from the Magpies, who combined their now characteristic defensive resilience with a greater level of flair than they had displayed in any of their previous games.

As well as Ba and Best combining effectively, Gabriel Obertan had his most effective match in a Magpies shirt, Yohan Cabaye was typically assured in central midfield, and both Hatem Ben Arfa and Sylvain Marveaux came off the bench to underline the depth of the club's resources.

Blackburn threatened a recovery when Junior Hoilett lashed home Martin Olsson's cross shortly before the interval to make it 2-1, and things might have been different had Olsson not prodded a shot against the crossbar after eluding the home defence a minute before Newcastle scored their third.

As it was though, Rovers were a beaten side long before Olsson, who picked up a first booking for dissent, was dismissed when he received a second for a foul on Best with 20 minutes left.

"When you look at the table and see where we are you can only be happy," said Ba. "But I am not surprised we are so high because when you look at the players we have in the team, you cannot be surprised."


Goals: 1-0: Ba (27, received cross from Best, held off Dann, and fired into top righthand corner) 2-0: Ba (30, headed home from close range after Steven Taylor headed on Simpson’s deep cross) 2-1: Hoilett (37, lashed into roof of net from edge of area after Olsson crossed from the left) 3-1: Ba (54, looping back-post header from Tiote’s cross that evaded Robinson and Dann)
: Olsson (54, dissent), Lowe (58, foul), Nzonzi (59, foul)
Sendings off
: Olsson (70, second yellow card, foul)
: Martin Atkinson (Halifax) – Olsson’s dismissal was probably a little harsh, but the official didn’t do too much wrong 5
: 46,236
: ****


6 Krul: Barely had a save to make, and couldn’t have done a lot with Hoilett’s strike for his goal
7 Simpson: Another tigerish display from the full-back who has barely put a foot wrong all season
7 S Taylor: Dominated the ineffective Yakubu throughout and maintained his superb start to the campaign
7 Coloccini: Another polished performance from the Argentinian who continues to lead by example
5 R Taylor: A mixed bag – some effective runs forward, but lost possession in the build up to Blackburn’s goal
8 Obertan: His best display in a Newcastle shirt contained plenty of powerful surges and shots at goal
7 Tiote: Held things together with his usual composure and assurance – also avoided a booking
7 Cabaye: Found himself closely marked throughout, but still fed some excellent through balls forward
6 Gutierrez: As industrious and committed as ever, but couldn’t really find a killer pass
9 BA: Opened his Newcastle account with a magnificent hattrick that showcased his close control and aerial prowess
7 Best: Made some brilliant runs to create chances, but wasted them by displaying a slight lack of composure

Ben Arfa (for Ba 73) Marveaux (for Gutierrez 84)
Not used: Harper (gk), Perch, Guthrie, Lovenkrands, Sammy Ameobi

BLACKBURN ROVERS (4-5-1): Robinson 6; Salgado 5, Samba 5, Dann 4 (Rochina 63, 5), Givet 4; HOILETT 8, Formica 4 (Roberts 63, 5), Nzonzi 6, Lowe 5, Olsson 5; Yakubu 3 (Grella 79). Subs (not used): Bunn (gk), Hanley, Petrovic, Vukcevic

DEMBA Ba – Newcastle fans love their centre-forwards, and they have a new name to sing after Saturday