Hatem Ben Arfa

By Kristan Heneage

Throughout the summer we have been reviewing the 2012/13 campaign, a season of highs and lows which saw Newcastle thrive in Europe but struggle domestically. The final instalment covers April and May, which included a couple of heavy home defeats but Premier League survival in the end...

April

A trip to the historic Estadio da Luz was how Newcastle started April as their Europa League campaign continued in earnest.

Noted for its intimidating atmosphere, the importance of the visit was not lost on the squad, nor was Benfica's formidable home record. Keen to cause an upset, the Magpies made the perfect start when Papiss Cisse tapped in Moussa Sissoko's cross.

On a night when Cisse could easily have collected the match ball, luck evaded the forward as the home side roused and displayed their Champions League pedigree, finishing the game with a 3-1 advantage.

Returning home ahead of a busy seven days involving two competitions and three games, Martin Jol's Fulham were the first visitors of the month to St. James' Park.

A resolute defensive display from the Cottagers appeared to have earned them a well deserved point, until Cisse delivered an injury-time winner.

The third home game in a row that the Senegalese striker had performed such a feat, he opted to celebrate in the stands, the moment captured brilliantly by United fan Jonny Robson on his camera phone.

Engaging in his own embrace with a supporter, a flustered Alan Pardew revealed afterwards: "You can't put a price on it, you really can't. I can't underline how important the win is, with the extra two points. They are very, very important."

That crucial win left Newcastle in a buoyant mood and ready for the arrival of Benfica just four days later. A sell-out crowd packed into St. James' Park to create a fantastic atmosphere and almost cause an upset. Taking the lead through the in-form Cisse, Argentine Eduardo Salvio broke home fans' hearts with an equaliser inside injury-time.

A valiant draw that left Pardew proud of his side, the Portuguese giants would eventually go on to the final of the competition before falling 2-1 to Chelsea.

The final game of the week saw fierce local rivals Sunderland make the short trip to Newcastle for a game that neither side could afford to lose. United went into the fixture boasting an impressive record against the Black Cats, whose manager Paolo Di Canio was sampling his first taste of the Tyne-Wear affair. And it is one he is unlikely to forget.

A 3-0 win thanks to goals from Stephane Sessegnon, Adam Johnson and David Vaughan gave Sunderland a much-needed victory and helped them edge towards Premier League safety. Feeling the effects of a tight schedule, a disappointed Pardew could only apologise to the Club's fans as Sunderland took the spoils on this occasion.

Keen to try and rectify the situation, they got off to a bright start in their next fixture against West Bromwich Albion thanks to Yoan Gouffran. A smart header from the January arrival after just eight minutes gave Newcastle the lead as they looked for some away day joy.

Eventually pegged back by Billy Jones, Pardew was ultimately pleased with another point in Newcastle's quest to surpass the 40-point mark and confirm another season of Premier League football for the Club.

The month finished with a visit from Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool side. Dangerous from the off, the visitors were in rampant form as they put six past goalkeeper Rob Elliot. A freak result that started with Daniel Agger's header inside three minutes, the day was finished off by Jordan Henderson's free-kick late on.

Admitting to a degree of surprise afterwards, Pardew promised to redouble efforts and redress the situation ahead of the final month of the campaign, the result ending a testing month for the Magpies.

Goal of the month: Papiss Cisse v Fulham

Described as a 'big moment' by manager Alan Pardew, Cisse's injury-time strike not only sent the home fans into raptures, but also proved once again the striker is a man for the big occasion. Showing supreme composure to flick the ball up into the sky, he then provided a neat, volleyed finish into the bottom corner that left veteran goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer with no chance.

 

May

The final month of the Premier League season saw Newcastle begin in the capital, as a number of familiar faces welcomed them to face West Ham United. Never an easy place to visit, the Magpies were ultimately left disappointed that Papiss Cisse's first half strike was not given as a goal, despite some replays showing the ball appear to cross the line.

Able to keep their first away clean sheet in the Premier League since January, boss Alan Pardew had Rob Elliot to thank after the goalkeeper produced a string of wonderful saves to keep the Hammers at bay.

Eight days later and United were this time in West London to face relegated Queens Park Rangers, in a game Newcastle were desperate to win. They got off to a bad start, however, with a penalty from Loic Remy - a one-time reported Tyneside target - giving Harry Redknapp's side an early lead.

Determined not to leave Loftus Road without three points, Hatem Ben Arfa's dazzling skills saw the visitors earn a penalty of their own. Confidently converted by the French international, it was just the confidence boost the Magpies needed, as fortune shone on them midway through the first half.

A short backpass from defender Jose Bosingwa was chased down by Jonas Gutierrez, and as the ball ricocheted into the centre circle, Yoan Gouffran was able to calmly tap the ball home.

Knowing a win could secure their Premier League status, a nervous second half was intensified by the dismissal of Elliot after the stopper was adjudged to have handled the ball outside of his penalty area.

Able to call upon Steve Harper as a replacement, the veteran's calm approach was noted by all including his manager. "Luckily for us we had Harps, who came on as if it was a Sunday afternoon and he was going down the pub with his dog," Pardew admitted. "That calmed everybody. It certainly calmed me down."

Operating with a serenity, the much needed win was secured and, with it, Newcastle's participation in next season's Premier League.

A week later and Harper would once again take centre stage. '20 years, 12 managers, 1 Steve Harper' read the banner in the Strawberry corner of St. James' Park as Harper played his final game for the Club after two decades of tremendous service.

Granted a standing ovation in the 37th minute - to mark his squad number - the long-serving goalkeeper struggled to hold back the tears on an emotional day on Tyneside.

Although the game ended in defeat for Newcastle, it was a day of celebration as the Club finished the season by saying goodbye to a United legend.

Goal of the month: Hatem Ben Arfa v Queens Park Rangers

As much about the smart dribbling as the eventual penalty conversion, Hatem Ben Arfa displayed his supreme self confidence to draw Newcastle level. A viciously struck penalty that clipped the underside of the bar as it flew past Robert Green, the winger's ability to take charge in a high pressure situation shows just why he is a French international and, on his day, one of Europe's best.