Papiss Cisse

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 fifth instalment covers March and April, including an eventful Tyne-Wear Derby and a run of six successive victories in which the Magpies struck some memorable goals...

 

March

The small matter of the 146th Tyne-Wear derby got the month of March underway, and as the game moved into stoppage time, it looked for all the world like Martin O'Neill's Black Cats would claim the bragging rights.

Despite coming into the fixture on the back of successive defeats to Arsenal and West Brom, the Wearsiders, down to ten men after the dismissal of Stephane Sessegnon, were clinging to a 1-0 lead thanks to a first-half penalty from Nicklas Bendtner.

And to make matters worse, United had missed a spot-kick of their own with eight minutes to go when Demba Ba - who had earlier hit the crossbar - saw his effort saved by Simon Mignolet.

But in a frantic finale, Geordie pride was restored in dramatic fashion. Yohan Cabaye's cross was deftly flicked on by Mike Williamson and super sub Shola Ameobi was on hand to score at the far post in the 92nd minute.

It was the striker's seventh career goal against the red and whites, and after the game, manager Alan Pardew said: "I love Shola to bits, and the chance couldn't have fallen to a better person."

After the pandemonium of a North-East derby, Newcastle headed to North London eight days later for a top-six clash with Arsène Wenger's Arsenal - another game that was settled with a late, late twist.

United took an early lead at the Emirates through Hatem Ben Arfa, but the Gunners were back in it immediately when the prolific Robin Van Persie netted within less than a minute.

A draw looked increasingly likely, but the hosts had one more chance deep into stoppage time which turned out to be the winner. Van Persie's initial header was blocked, but the ball dropped to Thomas Vermaelen, who swept the ball home.

It was an agonising defeat for the Magpies, but Pardew's men hadn't lost two league games in a row since early December, and bounced back with a narrow home victory over Norwich that lit the fuse paper on an incredible run of six wins on the trot.

The Canaries were no pushovers, but a touch of class from Papiss Cissé on 11 minutes was enough to settle it, with the Senegalese forward clipping home his third goal in four home games after great work from Jonas Gutiérrez.

And the insatiable number nine was at it again the following weekend in a devastating first-half performance at West Brom that saw the Toon play some of their best football of the campaign.

In a blistering spell, Cissé gave the visitors the lead from Ben Arfa's pinpoint cross after just six minutes before the Frenchman doubled the lead after a devastating, sweeping counter-attack.

The game was all but won when Cissé made it 3-0 soon after the half-hour mark, and though Shane Long pulled one back for the Baggies after the break, the Geordies remained in control to claim back-to-back triumphs.

 

April

With eight games to go in the Barclays Premier League, and with Pardew's side sitting in sixth place in the table, their European credentials were put to the test with the visit of Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool on April Fools' Day.

The Merseysiders arrived with a couple of familiar faces in their starting XI, with Andy Carroll and José Enrique making their first appearances on Tyneside since switching to the Reds.

But it was to be an uncomfortable return for the former Toon duo, as that man Cissé kept his incredible scoring run going with his second brace in a row.

Carroll should have given the visitors the lead early on after rounding Tim Krul at the Leazes End, but the striker went to ground inside the penalty area and was booked for diving as he looked for a spot kick.

And in an action-packed game that saw Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina sent off and Enrique replace him between the posts, Cissé remained the coolest man on Tyneside, scoring in each half to take his tally for the season to seven.

His goalscoring exploits continued in South Wales against Swansea on Good Friday, and another finishing masterclass - and yet another double from the forward - secured a fourth victory in a row.

The opener arrived after just five minutes, as the front man latched onto a Cabaye pass before side-footing the ball into the far corner, but his second was a real Goal of the Month contender.

Cabaye was involved once more, and when his ball found Cissé inside the area, the Senegal international scored with an audacious chip over Michel Vorm to send the travelling Geordies home happy.

The Magpies were now in top gear, and had hit form at just the right time as they looked to secure a place in Europe in only their second season back in the top flight. And with two home games in a row to come, confidence was high sky high.

A stunning individual goal from Ben Arfa changed the course of the first of those games against struggling Bolton Wanderers, and who else but Cissé put the result beyond doubt with seven minutes remaining.

And against Stoke City 12 days later, it was the turn of Cabaye to remind the Toon faithful of his undoubted talent, scoring twice in a 3-0 win that also included the now obligatory strike from Cissé.

United had won an incredible six games in a row, with Cissé bagging nine goals in the process, but praise was also due at the other end of the field after five clean-sheets during that sensational run.

The wheels came off at Wigan before the month of March was out following a shock 4-0 defeat, but as the final three games of the season approached, Newcastle found themselves competing for a top four finish and a place in the Champions League.

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