In our last season in the Championship, I recall going along to the City Ground in Nottingham to watch us take on former double European Cup winners Nottingham Forest.
We lined up with ‘Big’ Andy Carroll up front and never really looked like scoring whilst Andy was on the pitch, then something changed. What changed was the introduction of the Fenham Eusebio himself, Shola Ameobi, his movement and unpredictability gave Wes Morgan an extremely uncomfortable final 20 minutes after he had thoroughly enjoyed the previous 70 standing toe to toe with Carroll in a battle of brawn, it was movement which so nearly won the day.
When Papiss Cisse arrived he did so with a flourish, scoring goal after goal of every kind imaginable, from two yard tap ins to twenty five yard chips: left foot, right foot and head, the lad had it all – indeed in those first few months it seemed almost like Andy Cole had returned.
His partnership with Demba Ba was a dream of power, skill, intelligence and movement, but when Ba left he must have put Cisse’s shooting boots in his suitcase by mistake, because the goal-den touch was gone.
Second season syndrome is a real thing for many footballers, if they are a ‘one trick pony’ they get found out, if they don’t pick up where they left off then the confidence drains, and if the team around them is restructured or refocused it is not always to their benefit.
The second season was definitely one to forget for Cisse, he struggled with form and fitness, and with the departure of Demba Ba he lacked a capable foil who understood his game. It looked very much like rather than being our new Andy Cole, he was in fact the new Michael Ricketts.
Last season saw Cisse still struggling for fitness, a common theme amongst Newcastle players, but it also saw him adapt his game to working the channels and creating space in and around the box for others to play. This wasn’t the same player who we saw in his first months with the club, but let’s not forget that it was his goals who kept us in the league with a series of timely late strikes in 1-0 victories around November.
Papiss Cisse has started the last two games and in those games we have picked up four points after only picking up three of the previous fifteen available – this wasn’t down to Cisse, he hasn’t scored, but his presence has certainly helped.
Just like Shola against Forest, his movement and unpredictability keeps defenders on their toes, Mitrovic (as good and as passionate as he is) does not occupy defenders in the same way, especially big, slow, powerful defenders which are the type favoured in the Premier League.
Prior to the last two games I have read fans calling for, in equal measure, Mitrovic to be dropped and for Doumbia to be played. The evidence for either point is a little tenuous but I am happy to trust that Rafa knows what he is doing and it seems to be working so far.
The pattern of the last couple of games has been for Papiss Cisse to run the channels, get in behind defenders and generally give them a work out, before Mitrovic comes on and gives them something different, something more physical, to contend with, and we it seems to be working at the moment.
Having said all this, it would not surprise me in the least if Mitro starts against Liverpool as it is an away game and we can expect to see a lot less of the ball.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see us being even more compact on Saturday and go a little more ‘route one’ for the first 50 or 60 minutes, before introducing Cisse for the last half hour to try and exploit the space behind a back four who, will have pushed up to keep Mitro some distance away from goal in a physical battle.
For me, Cisse may not be the player that he used to be but he can still have a huge say in the final stages of this season (much like Tiote), and I also wouldn’t be at all surprised if he didn’t start finding the net, to give us a little more of a fighting chance.