By Dan Sheridan - Newcastle United Managing Editor
Throughout the summer we are reviewing the 2011/12 campaign - a remarkable season which will live long in the memory of every Newcastle fan. The fourth instalment covers the beginning of 2012 as the Magpies continued to impress, buoyed by new signing Papiss Cisse...
If December had been a testing month for Newcastle - one which saw them take just four points from a possible 18 - January was to get the new year off to an absolute flyer.
Champions Manchester United were the first visitors of 2012, and in front of a sell-out crowd and millions watching worldwide on television, Alan Pardew's men produced arguably their best performance of the season.
The game began at a furious pace, with the Red Devils given no time to settle on the ball, and with Cheick Tioté and Yohan Cabaye dominant in the middle of the park, the home side sensed victory.
The crucial first goal was a strike of real quality, and when Tim Krul's long punt up field was flicked on by Shola Ameobi, Demba Ba was on hand to hook a sublime volley into the far corner of the net for his 15th of the season.
That momentum carried on shortly after the break when Cabaye scored with a delightful free-kick from 25-yards that went in off the underside of the crossbar after Ba had been hauled down.
The result was then put to bed in the final minute when England international Phil Jones headed past his own goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard to cap a memorable 3-0 victory.
Three days later, and still buzzing from their demolition of the champions, the Magpies turned their attention to the FA Cup, and a third round home tie with Blackburn.
And staying with the theme of top-class goals, Hatem Ben Arfa produced a mesmerising solo effort that manager Alan Pardew described as one of the best he's ever seen.
Rovers were in front thanks to a close-range effort from David Goodwillie, but on 70 minutes Ben Arfa produced a moment of magic, picking the ball up near halfway before jinking past six players and smashing the ball into the roof of the net.
And safe passage into round four was secured when Jonás Gutiérrez drove down the left and exchanged passes with Leon Best before lifting an inch-perfect finish into the Gallowgate End goal deep into stoppage time.
A hat-trick of new year home fixtures was completed the following weekend when Queens Park Rangers, under new management in the shape of former Manchester City and Wales boss Mark Hughes, came to Toon.
But their was to be no dream start for Sparky as Best scored the only goal of the game before the break, turning Luke Young inside out before slotting home a fine finish.
United had responded well to a disappointing December, and had forced their way back into the Premier League top six, but a set-back was on the horizon away at Fulham.
Having dominated the game during the opening 45-minutes, and in front thanks to a Danny Guthrie screamer, United collapsed after the break in a game that eventually ended 5-2 to the Londoners.
And worse was to follow in the South-East the following weekend when a goal from Will Buckley was enough to see Championship side Brighton through in the fourth round of the FA Cup, ending Newcastle's Wembley ambitions for another year.
Mid-way through January, Alan Pardew had secured his one and only signing of the winter window, but as the remainder of the season would prove, it was no ordinary transfer.
Senegal striker Papiss Demba Cissé had been handed the famous number nine shirt on his arrival from German side SC Freiburg, but had to wait a number of weeks to make his Magpies debut thanks to his participation at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Ahead of his arrival, and the return of Demba Ba and Cheick Tioté from the same tournament, February got underway with a trip to face an in-form Blackburn Rovers side at Ewood Park.
In a classic smash and grab, the Toon took all three points thanks to an own-goal from Scott Dann and a late strike from Gabriel Obertan, with a crucial penalty save from Tim Krul sandwiched in between.
The match with Aston Villa at the Sports Direct Arena four days later began with Cissé on the bench, but an injury to Leon Best saw the forward make an earlier-than-expected appearance.
His fellow Senegalese international Demba Ba had put the Geordies in front with his 16th goal of the season on the half-hour mark, only for on-loan striker Robbie Keane to draw the Villains level in first-half stoppage time.
But the day belonged to Cissé, and his dream start was capped with a wonderful arrowed strike into the top corner to hand Newcastle a 2-1 win and begin an incredible scoring run that would see him hit double figures in spectacular fashion.
An evening to forget was had at Tottenham Hotspur the following weekend, as Harry Redknapp's side thrashed United 5-0 in what was their heaviest defeat of the season.
But their top-six spot was cemented before the month was out with a draw with struggling Wolverhampton Wanderers, who were also under new management following the sacking of Mick McCarthy.
Stand-in boss Terry Connor must have feared the worst when another strike from Cissé and a Gutiérrez blockbuster put the Toon in control, but second-half goals from Matt Jarvis and Kevin Doyle saw the game end 2-2.