JONÁS Gutiérrez believes Papiss Cissé has given Newcastle United an edge in the last weeks of the season.
The £7.5m Senegal striker was January’s most expensive Premier League signing, and one of the few significant additions by clubs chasing a European place.
Mid-season arrivals can unbalance a squad – there are few better examples than Faustino Asprilla’s move to the title-chasing Magpies in 1996. But having settled quickly into English football, with five goals in six games, Cissé has had a positive effect.
“When you have someone like Papiss who scores goals, then we’ve got an advantage,” argued Gutiérrez.
Sunday’s 3-1 win over West Bromwich Albion, in which Cissé scored twice, was a perfect example. The Baggies had more chances than their visitors – although with a two-goal lead after 12 minutes, Newcastle had no reason to force the pace – but the Magpies were more clinical in a brilliant counter-attacking display.
“We had an excellent first half,” Gutiérrez reflected. “In the second half it was a different game. West Brom were better, they tried to get back in the game to get something out of it, but their goal came out of our only mistake of the game.
“It (the win) was important for us, we need to get as many points as we can before the end of the season, it’s not over yet.”
With four games left, Newcastle have amassed 21 points away from home, their highest tally since 2002-03, when they garnered 22.
Whereas Cissé had reserved all his goals for St James’ Park until Sunday, Hatem Ben Arfa has scored all his in the Premier League away. His man-of-the-match performance at the Hawthorns, where he scored one and created the other two, was his best for Newcastle.
Gutiérrez took it as a sign he is getting to grips with English football.
“We know all about Hatem,” he said. “We know what he can do when he has the ball, and he did that on Sunday.
“People say he can’t adapt to English football because it is too physical, too tough, but he found the right moment and the right space to cause problems.
“He’s an important player for us, he’s learning about English football, it’s different to other teams. He’s learning that every day.”
Newcastle are sixth in the Premier League, eight points ahead of Sunday’s visitors Liverpool, trailing Chelsea on goal difference. All three clubs have eight games left.
Finishing fifth will guarantee a place in next season’s Europa League. To qualify from sixth, Newcastle need Liverpool to play Chelsea or Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup final.
“It’s nice for us to be in this position, but we’re not thinking about that,” insisted Gutiérrez. “We enjoyed ourselves against West Brom and we know we have a lot of games and a lot of points before the end of the season. We are taking it game by game and nothing else.
“We know we can open up a gap over Liverpool next week, it’s going to be a big game for us next week, so we’re going to have to be fully focused.”
Normally a winger, Gutiérrez was a holding midfielder at the Hawthorns, having operated at left-back against Norwich City the previous week. Manager Alan Pardew pointed to his team’s versatility as a key factor in their recent form.
“When you have had success, teams are going to come and nullify you and start working on ways to beat you, and you have got to keep asking different questions,” he argued.
“Yohan Cabaye and Jonás had different roles last week, and could have different roles again.
“But their application and attitude to them has been first-class, and that’s why Jonás got man of the match against Norwich, because he attacked the job at hand.”