When Newcastle United took on Chelsea back in May 2002, Papiss Cissé scored a better goal than a lot of players will score in their entire Premier League career. Then he did it for a second time – in the same game.
Newcastle’s 2011-12 season was a strange affair. Alan Pardew had arrived in the middle of the previous season to what could hardly be described as universal acclaim, and the 12th place finish in 2011 was hardly a sign of things to come, but the impact of summer arrivals Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye had helped the Magpies go 11 games unbeaten at the start of the campaign.
A mini-slump before Christmas saw them drop out of the top four, but when Cissé rocked up in January it gave them a second wind.
The Jekyll-and-Hyde existence was never evident more than in the club’s form in March and April: six straight wins, including a Cissé double to see off Liverpool and Andy Carroll, followed by a 4-0 defeat to a Wigan Athletic side which began the day just a point clear of the relegation zone. Enter Chelsea away, and a final chance to keep the faint Champions League hopes alive.
Chelsea themselves had distractions: an underwhelming winter under André Villas-Boas and a run to the Champions League final had distracted the Blues – now managed by Roberto di Matteo – from their domestic duties. Indeed, it had reached the point where defeat to Newcastle would all but ensure their only route to Europe’s top table would be to beat Bayern Munich in Bavaria. So yes, their minds may have been elsewhere, but even the most focused team would have struggled to contain Cissé that night.
The Senegalese striker went into the game on a run of nine goals in seven games, and he made that 10 in eight with a fantastic piece of forward play. With barely enough time to notice the ball, he managed to flick it up with one touch and fire a left-footed effort into the corner of Petr Čech’s net with a second.
The goal demonstrated the former Freiburg man’s ability to create something out of nothing. There was barely even a chance on when the ball reached his feet, but when it passed Čech and found the corner we felt there was never a chance of the goalkeeper stopping it.
It might have been a goal of the month contender in other circumstances, but by the time the night was over we’d already forgotten all about it. If you bring up the topic of Papiss Cissé’s goal against Chelsea, no one will even remember the left-footed effort, such was the eye-catching aspect of his second. And yet, as with so many great goals, every single part of it feels wrong.
When the ball is nodded back to Cissé by Shola Ameobi in stoppage time, the smart thing to do would involve him hanging onto the ball and winding down the clock to secure a vital three points. Maybe even try to run it deeper into the Chelsea half or towards the corner.
Option two would be to get the ball onto his stronger left foot and then maybe have a crack at goal. His position wasn’t too dissimilar to the spot from which he opened the scoring, but the three Chelsea defenders blocking his path would have forced him to be even more nimble, if such a thing was possible.
As we all know now, he chose option three: the one not even on the table from our perspective. It was as if he’d sat down at a poker game and offered up an Uno card as part of his hand. And because he’d done it so confidently, no one could complain.
When you watch the second goal back, the natural response is confusion.
A football isn’t supposed to move like that, and no footballer should be able to predict that kind of trajectory. And yet, as Cissé sweeps through the ball with the outside of his right boot, sending it on a perfect arc over Čech and into the far corner, he seems in total command throughout. The goalkeeper’s own reaction is mostly one of shock: his dive is more muscle memory than reflex, as if to acknowledge he recognises it as a shot but not as any kind of shot he has ever had to prepare for in the past, and he’s not wrong.
— Premier League (@premierleague) August 22, 2018
Sadly for Newcastle and for Cissé, this was as good as things would get.
Champions-elect Manchester City had too much for them in the next game, and the top four dream was over – not just for that year, but for that generation in general, with Pardew overseeing 16th and 10th place finishes before eventually leaving midway through the 2014-15 season.
Cissé’s two goals showed his mastery of timing, letting fly at the perfect moment and commanding his shots to land in a manner which made success inevitable. If only Newcastle themselves had managed to peak at the perfect time, instead of crashing back to earth that tiny bit too early.