Newcastle United is a football club with a lot of stories to tell, and not all of them have a happy ending. Luckily, our Newcastle United history book focuses on the ones that do. One of the more recent examples is the Magpies’ trip to Chelsea right at the end of the 2011/12 Premier League season, noteworthy not just for the result, but for one individual piece of skill so unique that even if you were to scour through all of our extensive personalised football books, you may never find an equivalent.
A Season of Ups and Downs
Newcastle travelled to London that night on the back of an embarrassing 4-0 defeat against relegation-battling Wigan, a sour end to a run of six straight victories, but not entirely out of sync with the side’s season as a whole. Indeed, the Magpies’ impressive start to the campaign, going unbeaten for the first eleven games, had been immediately followed by six without a win, and such inconsistency had continued into the new year, with a memorable 3-0 win over Manchester United counteracted two weeks later by a five-goal drubbing at the hands of Fulham.
“Striker So Goal-den”
Nevertheless, that streak of six on the bounce had taken Alan Pardew’s side from seventh place, and eight points behind the Champions League spots, to fourth, thanks in no small part to the goals of January arrival Papiss Demba Cissé. After bagging the winner on his debut against Aston Villa, the Senegalese striker had gone on to score eleven goals in his first ten matches, including back-to-back braces against Liverpool and Swansea. Alongside fellow countryman Demba Ba, who himself had fifteen league goals already, and gifted maverick Hatem Ben Arfa, Newcastle boasted a formidable strike-force that even a defence of Chelsea’s stature had to be more than wary of.
A Qualification Showdown
Going into the match on May 2nd, only a single point separated Tottenham in fourth and Chelsea in sixth, sandwiching Newcastle in fifth. For all intents and purposes, the showdown at Stamford Bridge, the third-from-last game of the season, was a Champions League qualification eliminator. With Newcastle’s last league win at the venue coming way back in 1986, the smart money was on the home side.
But football, especially when the stakes are high, is anything but predictable, and sure enough, within twenty minutes, the visitors were ahead. Cissé, on the edge of the area, controlled a pass from Davide Santon with his right foot; as the ball bobbled up in the air, the in-form frontman volleyed it exquisitely past Petr Cech and into the corner of the net. For many players, this would be a strike worthy of being called the best of their career. For Cissé, it wouldn’t even be his best of the night.
Newcastle continued to push on, culminating in Demba Ba rattling the woodwork on the stroke of half-time. Chelsea perhaps had one eye on their upcoming Champions League final with Bayern Munich, a rare second chance to qualify for next year’s competition. The Blues, though, would enter that contest as heavy underdogs, and consequently were unwilling to give up a top-four league finish without a fight. In the 87th minute John Terry, who would miss the final through suspension, got on the end of a Chelsea corner and glanced a header goalwards. The Newcastle defence, which at this point boasted five clean sheets from the last seven games, stayed organised, clearing the ball off the line.
“Never Cisse to Amaze”
As the time ticked away, and with Newcastle on the brink of a vital three points, Ryan Taylor launched a long throw down the left flank, to be chested down by Shola Ameobi, straight into the path of the oncoming Papiss Cissé. Being in the 94th minute, one would be forgiven for taking the opportunity to keep the ball in the corner in the interest of time-wasting. But Cissé was the paradigm of a man in form, and had only one thing on his mind.
From way out on the left-wing, Newcastle’s number 9 hit the ball first-time on the half-volley, with the outside of his right boot. Any right-minded onlooker, from either the terraces or an armchair, would surely attest that this was an angle impossible to score from. The ball, high above the goal, curled inwards with an outrageously curved trajectory, before dropping just inside the hapless Cech’s far post. A sensational goal, worthy of winning any game, and, as it turned out, the BBC’s Goal of the Season award. 2-0 Newcastle the final score.
Cissé’s double took his tally up to thirteen, equalling the record for most Premier League goals in a player’s maiden dozen matches. Ultimately, it would be the last goal scored by a Newcastle player that season, as the Magpies lost their final two games, finishing in fifth, although this was their best league position in almost a decade, prompting the Mirror to suggest that the England job had come a year early for Alan Pardew. All in all, the 2011/12 season would prove to be a memorable one for the Toon Army, with perhaps no greater highlight than one of the greatest goals in Premier League history.