Ba treble lifts Newcastle into third
Demba Ba fired Newcastle into third place in the Premier League as the Senegal striker bagged a hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Stoke at the Britannia Stadium on Monday.
Alan Pardew's side have been the surprise package of the season and this may well have been their most impressive performance to date as Ba condemned Stoke to only their second defeat in their last 14 home league matches.
Ba scored twice in the first half and, although Jonathan Walters reduced the deficit with a second half penalty, the former West Ham forward completed his second hat-trick of the season from the spot to ensure the Magpies maintained their unbeaten start to the campaign.
Newcastle are now just one point behind second-placed Manchester United and three ahead of fourth placed Chelsea. While it may be slightly premature to talk of Newcastle as serious contenders for a top-four finish, a few more results like this will put them firmly in the race for the UEFA Champions League.
Pardew, who deserves great credit for revitalising a club seemingly in turmoil after the departures of Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton, suffered a pre-match setback when key midfielder Cheik Tiote was ruled out with a knee injury.
Newcastle hadn't won a league match at Stoke since 1985 but, even without Tiote, they travelled to the Potteries in confident mood after such an impressive start. Their upbeat mood was clear to see in a vibrant spell that brought the opening goal in the 12th minute.
It must have been an especially bitter pill for Stoke to swallow as the goal bore all the hallmarks of their own route one style and came from a player who was close to joining them in the close-season before a failed medical scuppered the deal. Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul launched a huge punt downfield and Leon Best flicked on to Gabriel Obertan, who found himself in space behind left-back Marc Wilson. Obertan's cross was perfect for Ba and he rose to head home his sixth league goal in five matches.
Stoke were almost gifted an equaliser when Krul, under no pressure, dropped Andy Wilkinson's high cross and was relieved to see the ball roll behind and not across his goalline.
Stoke's triple blow
Tony Pulis's team had conceded just one goal at home this season, but the hosts lost defenders Wilson and Ryan Shawcross to injury before half-time and Newcastle increased their lead in the 40th minute. Matthew Upson could only help Fabricio Coloccini's lofted pass on to Best on the right of the penalty area and his miscued shot fell perfectly for Ba to stab home.
There was little chance of Stoke performing as tamely in the second half and sure enough they came out with a more aggressive approach after the break. Robert Huth threatened when he headed over from a Matt Etherington corner but Newcastle held firm until the 75th minute.
Ba briefly went from hero to villain when referee Mike Dean ruled his shove on Peter Crouch was worthy of a penalty. Walters smashed in the spot-kick, but Ba was back in Newcastle's good books six minutes later when Dean awarded a penalty for Huth's nudge on Best and the Senegal star sent Asmir Begovic the wrong way to seal the win.