Newcastle United moved up third place in the English Premier League after Demba Ba came back to haunt Stoke City with a Halloween hat-trick.
The Senegalese striker failed a medical for the Potters in January amid concerns over his knees, and instead joined Newcastle in the off-season at the end of his contract with West Ham.
And it was his contribution as well as the Magpies’ brilliant display of defending against Stoke’s style of play which saw them claim a 3-1 win over Stoke and leap-frog Chelsea in the league.
The opening exchanges consisted of a series of long balls, as both sides tried to test the resolve of each other’s back four in the air.
Fittingly, it was a lofted delivery that produced the first goal of the game.
Newcastle’s Dutch goalkeeper Tim Krul pumped the ball into the opposition’s half and striker Leon Best flicked it on to winger Gabriel Obertan, whose nicely measured cross found Ba in the box.
The ball was slightly behind the striker but Ba adjusted his body shape well before guiding his header the left of Begovic and into the bottom of the corner.
The Stoke goalkeeper was in a personal battle with Ba all match, and Yohan Cabaye’s ball in behind the defence caused the hosts problems before Begovic ran out and cleared just in time.
But Ba got the better of him once again moments later as Best’s low cross-cum-shot fell at his feet as he ghosted into the area, leaving him to tap home beyond the despairing goalkeeper.
The second-half proved to be a tale of two penalties.
The Newcastle hero of the hour brought down Peter Crouch in the box after a clumsy challenge following some head tennis in the penalty area, and Jonathan Walters thundered home the resulting spot-kick to set up a fascinating final ten minutes.
But any hopes of a comeback were over as Robert Huth lent into Best in the box and referee Mike Dean pointed to the spot.
Ireland striker Best did not go down but the shove was enough to convince Dean and Ba duly obliged to score a perfect hat-trick – scoring with his left, right and head – which was also his second three-goal feast this season.
It was also the second consecutive hat-trick to be scored by Newcastle on Halloween after Kevin Nolan’s goal frenzy against Sunderland last season.
Obertan went close to increasing the lead but his shot just fizzed past the post as Newcastle held on for three well-earned points, ensuring they remain unbeaten in the league.
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