By Dan King - Newcastle United Club Reporter
At the Sports Direct Arena
Newcastle United 2 (Ba 30, Cisse 71)
Aston Villa 1 (Keane 45)
Senegalese stars Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse fired Newcastle back up to fifth in the Barclays Premier League table.
The pair only touched down on Tyneside on Thursday after reporting back from the African Cup of Nations, but both were on target in this victory over Aston Villa which saw Alan Pardew's side leapfrog Arsenal and go level on points with fourth-placed Chelsea.
Ba put United in front on a wintery afternoon at the Sports Direct Arena but Robbie Keane equalised on the stroke of half-time.
Then up stepped debutant Cisse to score a memorable goal at the Gallowgate end and well and truly announce himself in the Barclays Premier League.
Ba and James Perch replaced Shola Ameobi and Hatem Ben Arfa as Pardew made two changes to the team which beat Blackburn in midweek.
Villa, meanwhile, included three former Newcastle players in their side and one of them, Charles N'Zogbia, had the first shot of the match after seven minutes. He tried his luck from the edge of the area but sliced his effort horribly wide.
On 13 minutes, Krul made a vital block from ex-Sunderland striker Darren Bent, staying big to deny him after Keane slid the ball to him, before the keeper went on to hold Stiliyan Petrov's follow-up.
Newcastle went on the attack themselves through Best, but he was injured and had to be replaced by Cisse - who amused the Leazes End faithful by warming up in front of them rather than by the side of the pitch.
And the Senegalese striker's first touch was an intelligent pass to Simpson out on the right before he raced into the box to meet the resulting cross, delivered by Taylor. His header was saved by Given but already the home crowd had been given a glipse of what Cisse was about.
Krul then thwarted Bent for a second time, diverting the ball wide with his trailing left leg after Richard Dunne had marched forward and played him in, before Keane turned and shot straight at the Dutchman.
But on the half-hour mark, Ba put United in front. Guthrie's ball in from the left was half-cleared by Dunne but only as far as Taylor who was racing in at the far post. He got to the ball first and was wiped out by Warnock, but the ball broke for Ba to net his 16th goal of the season.
Alas, Taylor paid the price for his bravery as he was stretchered off to be replaced by Gabriel Obertan.
The Villans responded with N'Zogbia shooting into the side-netting and Ireland curling inches wide after being picked out on the edge of the area by Petrov's intelligent free-kick.
There were six minutes of stoppage time, mainly due to the injuries to Taylor and Best although Villa's Stephen Warnock was also in the wars, and Cisse almost marked his debut with a goal. Guthrie clipped the ball in from the right and the new number nine headed just wide from eight yards out.
Then a shot from Santon, which followed a darting run, was deflected just wide by Carlos Cuellar before Guthrie nutmegged Keane and crossed for Ba, whose inventive looping header dropped agonisingly over the bar.
And Keane ensured the scores were level at the break as he converted N'Zogbia's cross just before half-time.
At the start of the second half, Guthrie's cross was met with the faintest of touches by Ba, but Dunne hacked the ball off the line before blocking Cisse's strike from the rebound.
Then Cisse headed over from another delivery from Guthrie, who was popping up all over the pitch.
However, the new signing from Freiburg was not to be denied and on 71 minutes he marked his debut with a goal at the Gallowgate End. Gutierrez sent the ball over from the left, Ba missed it but Cisse controlled it before sending a searing strike into the top corner.
A rather more unlikely name almost got on the scoresheet as Perch won the ball 35 yards out before unleashing a rocket shot which flew narrowly wide with Given beaten.
On 81 minutes, Obertan's cross was poked straight at Cisse by Cuellar and the debutant returned the ball with interest, his effort needing to be tipped wide by the visiting keeper.
Ciaran Clark tested Krul with a 20 yard drive which the Dutchman did well to block before substitute Gary Gardner curled one over the top.
Then Krul made an astonishing double save to first parry Gardner's diving header from point-blank range before reacting to keep out Emile Heskey's follow-up.
Ba was replaced in the final minute by Ameobi and despite Villa's late pressure, he and compatriot Cisse had done enough to secure all three points.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Tim Krul; Danny Simpson, Mike Williamson, Fabricio Coloccini (c), Davide Santon; Ryan Taylor (Gabriel Obertan 34), James Perch, Danny Guthrie, Jonas Gutierrez; Leon Best (Papiss Cisse 14), Demba Ba (Shola Ameobi 90)
Subs not used: Rob Elliot, Shane Ferguson, Dan Gosling, Hatem Ben Arfa
Aston Villa (4-4-1-1): Shay Given; Alan Hutton, Richard Dunne, Carlos Cuellar, Stephen Warnock; Stephen Ireland (Barry Bannan 46), Ciaran Clark (Gary Gardner 84), Stiliyan Petrov (c), Charles N'Zogbia (Emile Heskey 67); Robbie Keane, Darren Bent
Subs not used: Brad Guzan, Andreas Weimann, Eric Lichaj, Nathan Baker
Referee: Mark Halsey (Lancashire)