PAPISS Demba Cisse claimed a crucial three points for Newcastle United at St James’s Park this afternoon.
Alan Pardew’s side beat Norwich City 1-0 in a scrappy contest thanks to Cisse’s first-half strike.
The visitors never gave up and left Tyneside wondering how they had not found the net.
Paul Lambert’s team enjoyed long spells of possession against an out-of-sorts United, who were without influential midfielder Cheik Tiote.
However, sixth-placed Newcastle were able to hold out to claim a valuable Premier League win which closed the gap on Chelsea, in FA Cup action this weekend, to two points.
There was a minute’s applause in support of Fabrice Muamba, critically ill after suffering a heart attack playing for Bolton Wanderers yesterday, before kick-off.
Pardew sprung a surprise with his team, fielding Jonas Gutierrez as a makeshift left-back, with Davide Santon dropping down to the bench. Danny Guthrie came in for Tiote, while Cisse was also restored to the starting XI.
And Cisse – who Pardew revealed on the eve of the match was struggling to understand English – forced a save from John Ruddy in the second minute.
The striker ran on to Yohan Cabaye’s ball over the top and the goalkeeper only just reached his chipped effort.
However, Cisse was not to be denied in the 11th minute. Gutierrez, on the overlap, crossed and United’s No9 got in front of his marker and flicked the ball past a helpless Ruddy with his shin for his third goal for the club.
Norwich fought back, but they could not turn their possession into clear-cut chances, though Jonny Howson put a shot over the bar after Mike Williamson was caught in possession.
And Demba Ba forced a fine save from Ruddy at the other end of the pitch when he got on the end of a cross from Cabaye in the 39th-minute. Ruddy also denied Cisse before the interval.
Lambert’s side started the second-half positively, with Tim Krul stopping efforts from Anthony Pilkington and Zak Whitbread and the visiting team’s dominance was a concern for Pardew as he stood and watched from the touchline.
Ba, looking for his first goal in five games, shot wide on a rare attack at the half-hour mark and Pardew made his first change in the 63rd-minute, bringing on Santon for Ben Arfa in a tactical change.
Gutierrez was restored to his usual left-midfield role, but the switch did not stop Norwich, who kept on pressing for an equaliser.
Shola Ameobi came on in another change, the striker replacing Cisse in the 70th-minute and he almost had an immediate impact, helping create a chance for Ba with a powerful run down the right channel.
Ba could not convert the opportunity and Guthrie soon made way after suffering from what looked like cramp. Dan Gosling was sent on for a rare appearance.
Ameobi, handed a role on the right side of midfield, perked up United, who held on to claim their first win in five games.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Krul; Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini, Gutierrez; Ben Arfa (Santon 63), Perch, Guthrie, Cabaye; Ba, Cisse (Shola Ameobi 70). Subs not used: Elliot, Abeid, Gosling, Vuckic, Donaldson.
NORWICH CITY: Ruddy; Naughton, Ward, Whitbread, Drury (Hoolahan 82); Bennett, Howson (Holt 77), Fox, Surman, Pilkington (Martin 85); Morison, Subs not used: Steer, Johnson, Crofts, Jackson.
Goals: Cisse 11
Bookings: Bennett 62, Whitbread 78
Referee: Phil Dowd (Stoke-on-Trent)
Attendance: 47,833 (1,904 Norwich)