RUMOURS of Papiss Demba Cisse’s demise appear to have been greatly exaggerated.
But what about that of Newcastle United?
The striker’s goal against Stoke City last night couldn’t stop the club suffering a fourth successive Premier League defeat.
And anything other than a win against Wigan Athletic on Monday will see the club left perilously close to the relegation zone.
Written off before a ball was kicked at the Britannia Stadium, Alan Pardew’s beleaguered players, none more so than Cisse, had a point to prove.
And the Senegal star – and his team-mates – were doing just that on a bitterly cold night in the Potteries until Jonathan Walters’s 81st-minute intervention.
Walters’s goal cancelled out Cisse’s strike earlier in the second half, and Cameron Jerome’s 85th-minute winner was tough on Newcastle, who had more than deserved to take a point home.
Stoke manager Tony Pulis had been generous enough to Newcastle in his programme notes.
“This is a team good enough and strong enough to burst back into life at any moment, in my opinion,” he wrote. “They have players coming back from suspension, and maybe injury as well.”
And United, from the first whistle, had a spirit about them which was desperately lacking at the St Mary’s Stadium on Sunday, when they were beaten 2-0 by Southampton.
With Steven Taylor sidelined through injury, possibly until February, captain Fabricio Coloccini made a timely return from suspension in the centre of defence, while James Perch started in midfield after recovering from a groin problem.
However, Perch won’t be seen again in the Premier League until a week on Monday, when United visit Fulham, after being hit with a one-game suspension 18 minutes into his comeback.
The utility player – lining up alongside Cheik Tiote in a defensively-minded central midfield partnership – was shown his fifth yellow card of the season for a clumsy challenge on Matthew Etherington.
And Perch will now have to sit out the Wigan game.
Newcastle started positively enough – Cisse was looking lively – but they were thankful for the post in the 16th minute when Mike Williamson inadvertently directed a Glenn Whelan free-kick towards goal.
United threatened on the break, as they had done all too often in last season’s 3-1 win at the Britannia Stadium.
However, the best chance of the first half was a counter-attacking move at the other end of the pitch, with Whelan setting away Etherington with a lofted ball down to the left wing.
With Coloccini the only defender back covering, Etherington couldn’t give Charlie Adam a shot on goal, with his pass running just beyond the midfielder.
Pulis lost lone forward Peter Crouch to a facial injury before the half was out – the striker was caught by Coloccini’s stray arm – and he was replaced by former Sunderland striker Kenwyne Jones.
Cisse’s big moment came as some fans were still filing back to their seats.
Tiote caught Whelan in possession, turned and found Demba Ba, whose shot from distance was parried by Asmir Begovic
Cisse got to the rebound and rolled the ball into the net in front of United’s 2,000-strong travelling support.
Emboldened by his fourth goal of the season, Cisse strode forward looking for another. Goalkeeper Tim Krul’s long ball forward was missed by Ba, and Cisse raced clear, but Begovic was equal to his fierce effort.
As the half wore on, the home fans grew increasingly frustrated as they seemed destined not to get an equaliser, Jones in particular at fault as he headed straight at Krul from six yards out after a Michael Kightly cross.
But it was United’s supporters who were to leave the Britannia Stadium cursing their team’s luck.
Walters was there to head an inviting Jerome cross past Krul to level the scores.
And it was to get even better for the Potters three minutes later when Jones made amends for his miss by setting up Jerome to slide his shot under Krul.
The Britannia Stadium cheered loudly and as the final whistle blew Stoke were able to celebrate climbing into the top 10 while Newcastle remain only two points above the relegation zone.
And those strikes sent a chill down their spines ahead of what is looking to be a bleak winter for Newcastle.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Krul 7; Simpson 6, Williamson 6, Coloccini 6, Santon 6; Anita 6 (Sammy Ameobi 87), Tiote 6, Perch 7, Gutierrez 6; Ba 6, CISSE 7 (Ranger 87). Subs not used: Elliot, Tavernier, Ferguson, Bigirimana, Marveaux.
STOKE CITY: Begovic; Shotton, Shawcross, Huth, Cameron; Walters, Whelan, Nzonzi, Adam (Kightly 67), Etherington (Jerome 68); Crouch (Jones 40). Subs not used: Sorensen, Palacios, Whitehead, Upson.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Papiss Demba Cisse. The striker looked far more like his old self.
HIGHLIGHT: Cisse’s strike – and performance. Both were long-overdue.
LOWLIGHT: The defending for Stoke City’s two late goals.
Goals: Cisse 47, Walters 81, Jerome 85
Bookings: Santon 15, Perch 18, Adam 28, Cameron 58
Referee: Howard Webb (Sheffield)