THE King is dead. Long live the King.
If the script was meant to be about Demba Ba’s return to St James’s Park, Moussa Sissoko certainly hadn’t read it.
Ba left Tyneside with a broken nose.
Chelsea’s manager Rafa Benitez wasn’t bloodied, but being kicked in the face might have been preferable to watching his team capitulate on a bitterly cold Tyneside afternoon.
Sissoko, meanwhile, left the stadium with applause from Newcastle United’s fans ringing in his ears.
After the game, Alan Pardew – booed during the club’s last home game, the defeat to Reading – talked of a “new star” being born in the wake of Ba’s departure for Stamford Bridge.
And it was difficult to argue with Pardew given the impact Sissoko has made in his two appearances for Newcastle.
Two goals, one assist and six points. But the stats don’t tell the whole story.
Before he’d kicked a ball for United, Pardew said Sissoko wanted to put the club’s situation right “on his own”.
The 23-year-old has been good to his word, though what the past 180 minutes has been about more than anything is team work. Sissoko – and the other full home debutant Yoan Gouffran – have bought into the work ethic needed for a relegation scrap.
Scrap is just what Newcastle did on Saturday. But the team also played a bit too.
A powerful box-to-box midfielder, Sissoko looks to be the complete player. And the frightening thing is that he’ll only get better.
While £50m striker Fernando Torres had a minimal impact on the game after replacing broken-nose victim Ba, Sissoko was everywhere, and the £1.8m the club spent on him in last month’s transfer window is looking a steal.
Newcastle started well, moving the ball intelligently, and pressing out of possession.
Tackles were won, passes were made, but before United had a proper sight of goal, Chelsea settled into the game. With Pardew urging his players on from the touchline, the game swung from end to end.
Papiss Demba Cisse forced a save from Petr Cech with a right-footed shot after Oscar put an effort over Tim Krul’s goal.
Davide Santon shot wide after a cross from Mathieu Debuchy was headed to him before Ramirez made a two-footed challenge on Jonas Gutierrez. He was only shown a yellow to the fury of United’s bench.
Fortunately, Gutierrez was able to continue. And his moment would come.
With half an hour gone, little had been seen of Ba, but he broke free in the 32nd minute and his shot was saved by Krul. As he headed the rebound inches past the post, the recovering Fabricio Coloccini caught him in the face.
Sympathy, predictably, was in short supply for Ba as he was treated in front of the Leazes End.
Within minutes, Newcastle were ahead. Yohan Cabaye played in Santon on the left, and Gutierrez beat John Terry to meet his deft cross. The celebration told its own story, with Gutierrez emotively running behind Cech’s goal to celebrate his first headed goal for the club.
Juan Mata had been a peripheral figure before the break, but he came into his own after the interval, and in the space of six minutes, United were behind to stunning goals from Frank Lampard and the Spaniard.
Newcastle looked tired, their first-half efforts having seemingly caught up with them.
But talk about a second wind. Actually, it was more like a fierce gale.
Cisse played in Gouffran, whose shot was parried as far as Sissoko, who neatly placed it past Cech. Game on. Again.
Roared on by all apart from the disillusioned Chelsea fans on Level 7 of St James’s Park, Sissoko showed a remarkable turn of pace to sprint past Ashley Cole, but Cech was equal to his shot.
No matter, more chances would come his way
With an confrontation between goalkeeping coaches a sideshow in front of the dugouts, United ripped into Chelsea, with Sissoko poking the ball towards Cech after a move involing Gouffran and Cisse.
Cisse implored his team-mates on in the dying minutes, and one final chance was all Sissoko needed, the midfielder drilling the ball through a crowded box after Santon pulled it back to him.
Cue pandemonium on and off the pitch, with the Frenchman running to the bench to celebrate with players and staff.
If United’s team turned a corner at Villa Park, the players collectively put their feet on the gas on home turf, and the Premier League table makes better viewing on Tyneside, with a six-point gap having opened up between the club and the bottom three.
While an Englishman’s name was being printed on shirts in Paris, a Frenchman’s is likely to adorn most of the jerseys that fly off the shelves in Newcastle’s club shop today.
Sissoko has undoubtedly arrived in English football. And don’t Chelsea know it.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Krul 8; Debuchy 8, S Taylor 8, Coloccini 8, Santon 8; Perch 8, Cabaye 8; Gouffran 8 (Marveaux, 85), SISSOKO 9 (Yanga-Mbiwa, 90), Gutierrez 8; Cisse 8. Subs not used: Elliot, Bigirimana, Anita, Obertan, Shola Ameobi.
CHELSEA: Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole; Ramires, Lampard; Oscar, Mata, Bertrand; Ba (Torres, 42). Subs not used: Turnbull, Ferreira, Marin, Azpiliceta, Benayoun, Ake.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Moussa Sissoko. Already looking like the stand-out buy of last month’s transfer window.
HIGHLIGHT: The scenes as St James’s Park celebrated Sissoko’s dramatic winner.
LOWLIGHT: It’s difficult to think of one – this was one of the games of the season.
Goals: Gutierrez 40, Lampard 55, Mata 61, Sissoko 68, 90
Bookings: Ramirez 31, Perch 45, Cole 62, Cisse 62, Mata 90
Referee: Howard Webb (South Yorkshire)
Attendance: 52,314 (2,839 Chelsea)