On cloud nine: New goalscoring hero Papiss Cisse has Newcastle dreaming of the Champions League

The Senegalese striker’s instant impact bodes well for the Toon's chances of gatecrashing the Premier League’s top four spots

By Rob Stewart at the Sports Direct Arena

If first impressions are anything to go by, then Newcastle United could be on to something really special this season with Papiss Cisse as their unlikely pursuit of Champions League football hots up.

Newcastle fans know club owner Mike Ashley is about as keen on frittering his money away on over-priced footballers as he is on speaking in public, but the £7 million invested in Cisse is already looking like a shrewd piece of business.

Ashley is a man of few (public) words, but the hiring of Cisse is clearly a statement of intent from the billionaire businessman as a place among Europe’s elite beckons and a Europa League berth starts to look likely.

Shopping mogul Ashley will now feel certain that sanctioning Cisse's signing was money well spent and that Newcastle have what it takes to return to Europe’s top table following his new employee’s scintillating debut in the 2-1 win over Aston Villa on Tyneside.

According to Newcastle manager Alan Pardew, Cisse “lifted the roof off” the Sports Direct Arena when his half-volley gave his team victory over Villa and that seems apt because the sky is the limit for Geordies now the club’s new No. 9 is in situ.

The club’s fabled No. 9 shirt has been vacant since Andy Carroll headed off to Liverpool 13 months ago but those who witnessed Cisse’s debut will feel as though he was worth waiting for.

Rubber-limbed with the executioner’s eye for a kill, Cisse has already been hailed as a cross between former Newcastle strikers Andy Cole and Faustino Asprilla by Toon Army foot-soldiers.

It is the measure of the impact the 26-year-old Cisse made on Sunday that he is already being favourably compared to such outstanding strikers.

But perhaps what is even more mouth-watering for Newcastle fans is that Pardew believes his new charge can match compatriot Demba Ba goal-for-goal in the months ahead.

Ba took his tally of goal this season to 16 against Villa but he was overshadowed by his new colleague thanks to his exploits on and off the field of play.

Dynamic duo l Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse have hit it off instantly for Newcastle

The warm reception which unfolded when he first rose from the bench to warm up on the touchline was as expected but no one could have predicted that his boyish enthusiasm would take him behind the goal at the Leazes End. That is the sort of stuff that will endear him to the locals.

Pardew was planning to ease the new arrival from Freiburg into English football following his exertions in the Africa Cup of Nations with Ba, but he need not have been so cautious.

When he did enter the fray to a standing ovation in the 14th minute amid a deafening din as Leon Best hobbled off, he quickly made himself at home with a quick turn that showed he will be a handful for any Premier League defender.

After that bright start he faded as Newcastle were pushed on to the back foot and he sent a header sailing over from a favourable position but then came back with a bang as he lashed the ball beyond Shay Given right in front of the Gallowgate End and he was up and running.

As for Ba, after a barren Africa Cup of Nations, he picked up where he left off for Newcastle not only by making Premier League defenders’ lives a misery but also by returning to goal-scoring ways.

Newcastle fans have seen some deadly duos in the past such as Alan Shearer and Les Ferdinand as well as Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley but there is every indication that Ba and Cisse can write themselves into Geordie folklore.

Judging by their joint celebrations this is a partnership that could be a marriage made in heaven for Newcastle as a return to Champions League football for the first time since the 2002-03 season looks viable.

Pardew’s side are now snapping at the heels of fourth placed Chelsea and even though the former West Ham manager is trying to play down expectations, he will know that his side are capable of Champions League qualification.

Fellow challengers Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool have all proven themselves to be inconsistent whilst upwardly mobile Newcastle have been in the top seven places all season.

When midfield enforcer Cheik Tiote returns from his Africa Cup of Nations duties with Ivory Coast and Yohan Cabaye is back from suspension, Newcastle really will be a force to be reckoned with even though they look light defensively.

This Saturday’s trip to Tottenham will put their challenge into perspective but until then Newcastle fans can dare to dream.


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