By Anthony Marshall - Newcastle United Club Reporter
At the Sports Direct Arena
Newcastle United 1 (Ba 19)
Norwich City 0
Demba Ba's fourth goal of the season was enough to earn Newcastle United a 1-0 win over Norwich City at the Sports Direct Arena on Sunday.
The Senegalese front man struck midway through the opening period, applying a composed finish to an inch-perfect pass from Hatem Ben Arfa, and the Magpies were good value for their lead.
It wasn't all one-way traffic, however, as the Canaries made a real fight of it, with a couple of headers from Wes Hoolahan and Robert Snodgrass threatening, and United keeper Steve Harper having to save well from Andrew Surman.
Newcastle made a bright start to proceedings, knocking the ball about with real urgency, but it was Norwich who created the first goalscoring opportunity with five minutes on the clock.
Left-back Javier Garrido galloped forwards before delivering an inviting cross which was met by Hoolahan ten yards out. The diminutive playmaker headed firmly goalwards but Steven Taylor put his body in the way to divert the effort behind for a corner.
The visitors were forced into an early change when former Magpie Sebastien Bassong picked up a knock from the resulting corner. The centre-back was duly replaced by ex-Sunderland man Michael Turner, with neither player getting a warm welcome from the Sports Direct Arena crowd.
Norwich were beginning to apply plenty of pressure, but United made the breakthrough in the 19th minute with a stunning counter-attack.
As a loose ball rolled through to goalkeeper Harper, speed of thought saw him instantly release Ben Arfa with an intelligent throw. The French international skipped through a couple of Canaries challenges before threading a pass into the path of Ba.
And the front man - with three goals to his name already this campaign - needed no second invitation to make it four, taking a touch before slotting the ball under the on-rushing Ruddy.
Norwich attempted a response and Williamson was perfectly placed on his own goalline to nod away Snodgrass' header, which was on its way in.
But Newcastle were soon on the front foot again. Cabaye - looking back to his vibrant, creative self - fired a couple of efforts off target, while Steven Taylor threatened with a powerful header that was hacked clear inside the six-yard box.
Yet again, Ben Arfa was pulling the strings for the hosts, and seven minutes before the break he showed Andrew Surman the ball before slotting it through his legs, collecting it the other side and almost putting a second on a plate for Ba.
The advantage should have been doubled on the stroke of half-time, when United were awarded a spot-kick after Steve Morison barged into Williamson trying to win a header.
Ben Arfa had already scored one penalty for the Magpies this term, but handed the ball over to Cisse for the striker to open his account for the campaign. However, it didn't go to plan, with last season's prolific forward blazing his effort well over the top.
That miss was to almost prove costly as, within two minutes of the restart, Surman broke the hosts' offside trap, racing on to a through ball. Thankfully for United though, Harper stood up well a blocked the midfielder's attempted dink over him.
At the other end, Ben Arfa cut inside from the right flank and stung the fingertips of Ruddy from 25 yards, with Taylor nodding the resulting corner just off target.
On 61 minutes, James Perch - who had earlier switched positions with Vurnon Anita from his original right-back berth - lofted a ball over Leon Barnett for Cisse to chase. The striker opted to take a touch rather than try his luck first time, and Cisse's eventual shot lacked power and was easy for Ruddy to claim.
Ruddy was by far the busier of the two keepers and was again called upon to save almost immediately, when Williamson powerfully connected with Cabaye's deep corner.
An off-target header in the 70th minute was Cisse's final involvement of the afternoon, as he made way for Gabriel Obertan, with the visitors also making a change in the introduction of Grant Holt for Morison.
With eight minutes remaining, Ba almost put the result beyond any doubt. Cabaye's attempted pass was deflected into the feet of the goalscorer, but Ruddy got down well to his left to smother the shot. And the stopper was on hand in added-on time to prevent Obertan from firing past him from a tight angle.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Steve Harper; James Perch, Mike Williamson, Steven Taylor, Davide Santon; Hatem Ben Arfa (Shola Ameobi 85), Vurnon Anita (Cheick Tiote 76), Yohan Cabaye, Jonas Gutierrez (c); Papiss Cisse (Gabriel Obertan 70), Demba Ba
Norwich CIty (4-5-1): John Ruddy; Russell Martin (c), Sebastien Bassong (Michael Turner 8), Leon Barnett, Javier Garrido; Robert Snodgrass, Bradley Johnson, Jonny Howson, Andrew Surman (Simeon Jackson 82), Wes Hoolahan; Steve Morison (Grant Holt 70)
Subs not used: Mark Bunn, Ryan Bennett, Alexander Tettey, Anthony Pilkington
Referee: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire)
Bookings: Newcastle - Tiote (89) Norwich - Howson (88)
Attendance: 49,402 (1,413 Norwich)