DEMBA Ba won’t have scored too many more valuable goals in his career.
They were priceless for Newcastle United.
And Ba – wanted by a clutch of clubs in next month’s transfer window – became an even pricier footballer before limping off the pitch in the dying minutes.
Last night’s 3-0 win over 10-man Wigan Athletic was compulsive viewing for Newcastle fans – and Ba’s agents.
And the relief inside St James’s Park was palpable when the Senegal striker put the game beyond Roberto Martinez’s team with his second goal of a bitterly cold Tyneside night.
In doing so, he became the first United player since all-time leading scorer Alan Shearer to reach double figures at this stage of the season.
And the protracted contract talks between the club and Ba, clearly, aren’t going to get any easier.
The only positive is that only a few clubs in the world can now afford the 27-year-old, who has a £7.5m release clause in his contract which can be activated next month, but who is seeking a reported £90,000 a week in salary.
Without his goals, United would be deep in relegation trouble.
And losing him is unthinkable to Newcastle supporters, who saw their team move five points clear of the Premier League’s relegation zone thanks to his double and substitute Gael Bigirimana’s first goal for the club.
The only downside was the injuries suffered by Ba, Cheik Tiote and Davide Santon, which were today being assessed by the club’s medical team.
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew – whose tactics have come under scrutiny in recent weeks – brought in midfielder Sylvain Marveaux for the suspended James Perch, and set out his side in a 4-3-2-1 formation.
Hamstrung by injuries, Pardew could do little else with his starting XI.
Marveaux went on to justify his selection with a fine performance, but it wouldn’t overshadow that of Ba.
It’s doubtful whether any of the 15 previous meeting between these two sides carried this much significance on Tyneside.
However, much of the pressure which had built up in the run up to the game dissipated with a pointed finger, a wave of a red card and a swing of Ba’s right foot.
Ba played in his Senegal strike partner Papiss Demba Cisse Cisse after a flowing move up the pitch, and Maynor Figueroa’s contact saw the frontman go down heavily. Mike Jones adjudged it to be a penalty, and dismissed Figueroa.
It was a decision which enraged Roberto Martinez and his staff.
And as fourth official Neil Swarbick separated United’s goalkeeping coach Andy Woodman and a member of Wigan’s backroom team, Ba stepped up to tuck the spot kick in the bottom left-hand corner.
And it got better for Newcastle – much better.
Santon strode forward in the 21st minute and his shot was spilled by goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi, with Ba there to poke the loose ball into the net.
All of a sudden, Newcastle, so often plodding and pedestrian on home turf this season, looked a different team, and Marveaux forced a save with a low shot.
Visiting captain Gary Caldwell, already on a booking for an earlier challenge, was given a last warning by Jones for a late sliding tackle on Ba as United pressed for a third goal with the half-time break approaching. Marveaux went close with the resulting free-kick.
And Newcastle went in at the break in total control, something which hasn’t been the case too often this season.
Tiote – who suffered a knock in the first-half – was replaced by Bigirimana at the break, and Santon soon followed him off the pitch after picking up an injury.
United pressed on after the interval, and a fine run from Marveaux led to a chance for Bigirimana, whose fierce shot was saved by Al-Habsi.
However, Al-Habsi could do nothing stop the teenager’s stunning 70th-minute strike.
Marveaux found the midfielder 25 yards from goal, and he took the ball on his left foot before unleashing an unstoppable shot beyond the helpless goalkeeper.
If it hadn’t been already, it was game over. The rest of the match was a non-event, though Ba limped off three minutes from the final whistle clutching his hamstring to cast a shadow over the victory, Newcastle’s first league win by more than a one-goal margin this season.
Unfortunately, Pardew can barely muster a team for Thursday night’s Europa League game at Bordeaux.
But that’s a problem for another day.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Krul 7; Simpson 7, Williamson 7, Coloccini 7, Santon 7 (Ferguson, 49, 7); Tiote 7 (Bigirimana, 46, 8), Anita 8; Cisse 7, Marveaux 8, Gutierrez 7 (Sammy Ameobi, 76); BA 8. Subs not used: Harper, Tavernier, Shola Ameobi, Ranger.
WIGAN ATHLETIC: Al-Habsi; Boyce, Caldwell (Lopez, 46), Figueroa; Stam, McCarthy, Jones, Beausejour; Kone, Gomez (McArthur, 23), Di Santo (McManaman, 83). Subs not used: Pollitt, Boselli, Fyvie, Golobart.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Demba Ba. Without his goals, just where would Newcastle be this season?
HIGHLIGHT: The relief on and off the pitch at St James’s Park when Ba tucked away his penalty.
LOWLIGHT: The injuries suffered by Ba, Cheik Tiote and Davide Santon.
Goals: Ba 13 (pen), 21, Bigirimana 70
Bookings: Beausejour 14, Caldwell 30, Di Santo 67, Sammy Ameobi 77
Sent off: Figueroa 13
Referee: Mike Jones (Chester)
Attendance: 43,858 (279 Wigan)