NUFC up to third after 3-1 win at Stoke City

DEMBA Ba came back to haunt Stoke City on Halloween.

The striker’s second Newcastle United hat-trick sent the club third in the Premier League last night.

Ba had been all set to join Tony Pulis’s side in January, only for the proposed deal to fall through at the 11th hour after he failed a medical.

Instead, Ba signed for West Ham United, his form in the second half of last season at Upton Park earning him a summer move to St James’s Park.

And Pulis must be rueing that decision after seeing Ba play his best game yet for Newcastle.

Stoke kicked off a gruelling week amid a strangely subdued atmosphere at the Britannia Stadium.

United were tested physically early in the game, but with every minute that went on, the more comfortable they looked.

And their breakthrough came after Tim Krul kicked the ball down the pitch, with Leon Best flicking on the clearance to Gabriel Obertan.

In the early part of the season, Obertan’s pace has threatened more than it has delivered, but the cross he delivered for Ba was inch-perfect, and Asmir Begovic was helpless as the striker connected.

Ba celebrated in front of the Boothen End, and the abuse he got in the minutes after the goal only seemed to fire him up more, such was the intensity about his play alongside Best.

Stoke themselves struggled to impose themselves on Newcastle, who ably dealt with Rory Delap’s long throws.

Krul was equal to a volley from Matthew Etherington, but shots on goal were few and far between for Pulis’s side, who were fast running out of ideas as the half-time break approached.

United, by contrast, looked dangerous every time they attacked, with Ba, Best and Obertan able to find space even on the tightest of Premier League pitches, the wider European dimensions clearly visible.

Stoke’s central defenders - among them one of the most gifted to have pulled on the black and white over the past decade, Jonathan Woodgate - only venture forward for set-pieces, but a feature of Newcastle’s play is Fabricio Coloccini’s ability to use the ball in the opposition’s half.

And Coloccini strode forward to clip a ball into the box which reached Best via a deflection off a home player.

Best’s attempted shot rolled to Ba, and Begovic was again helpless.

Stoke had United on the back foot early in the second half, but the Pardew’s team were again equal to whatever, literally, they had thrown at them until Ba nudged Peter Crouch in the box.

Referee Mike Dean pointed to the spot in the 75th minute. The penalty was fiercely driven past Krul by Jonathan Walters, but the respite was brief for Stoke, with Dean adjudging Robert Huth to have fouled Best at the other end five minutes later.

The identity of the penalty taker was never in question, and Ba tucked it away to cap another memorable 90 minutes for him and United.

By the time Dean called time on the game, the Britannia Stadium, the scene of Pardew’s heaviest defeat as Newcastle manager, was almost empty.

However, there won’t be too many spare seats at St James’s Park on Saturday when United take on Everton, such is the optimism on Tyneside as their league campaign enters it’s fourth month.