NEWCASTLE manager Alan Pardew has labelled Cheik Tiote a force of nature after the midfielder’s match-saving contribution against Arsenal.
The midfielder capped an incredible comeback for Newcastle with a stunning late equaliser in Saturday’s remarkable draw at St James’s Park.
Tiote had been suspended for the previous three games for his dismissal in the FA Cup defeat to Stevenage.
The 24-year-old was off the pace in the first half, having lacked match sharpness after his enforced absence. But Tiote returned with a vengeance after the break.
And Pardew hailed the Ivory Coast international’s contribution – and that of his rejuvenated team-mates – after the interval as Newcastle came back from four goals down.
“We didn’t get near anyone – Cheik didn’t make a challenge for 20 minutes – but he wasn’t feeling sorry for himself,” Pardew said.
“He was one of the few that wasn’t – that’s just where he was.
“It was just the pace of the game, but he became the force of the game, to a degree. He and Joey Barton changed the game.
“The skipper (Kevin Nolan) was magnificent, I thought. All of them, but that midfield area showed we weren’t going to lay down, and we’d put them under pressure.
“We put them under pressure, and suddenly the game changed. We had chance, after chance after chance.
“Even at 4-4, we got two good chances to win it. We did it in a structured manner. I’m so proud of the players and everyone.”
Meanwhile, Manchester United have been linked with a summer bid for Tiote.
And Pardew – who saw leading scorer Andy Carroll sold last week for £35m – admits he could have “a problem” if a club comes in for Tiote.
“I’m hoping there are no bids, otherwise we will have a problem,” said Pardew.
“Tiote is a very important player, very talented and someone we want to be a big part of our future.”
Pardew’s men were in complete disarray as the Gunners raced into a 4-0 lead within the opening 26 minutes.
Theo Walcott needed only 42 seconds to score as he ran on to Andrey Arshavin’s pass and slid the ball past Steve Harper with Fabricio Coloccini and Mike Williamson trailing in his wake.
There were less than three minutes on the clock when Johan Djourou was inexplicably allowed to meet an Arshavin free-kick seven yards out, and his header flew in off the underside of the crossbar.
When Robin Van Persie fired home a third goal from Walcott’s cross in the 10th minute, a packed house settled down for what looked certain to be an agonising remaining 80 minutes.
Wenger’s men were simply irresistible, with Cesc Fabregas and Diaby dominating in the middle of the pitch to allow Arshavin, Walcott and Jack Wilshere to repeatedly run at the shell-shocked Newcastle defence.
Arsenal increased their lead with 26 minutes gone when Van Persie headed Bacary Sagna’s cross home, and it came as a surprise that the scoreline remained at 4-0 when the half-time whistle handed the Magpies brief respite.
Van Persie might have done better after running on to Williamson’s weak header and shooting wide, and Harper managed to turn the Dutchman’s shot against the post in injury-time.
But the cracks started to appear after Abou Diaby over-reacted to Joey Barton’s rugged challenge and pushed him to the ground to earn an inevitable red card.
Newcastle took the Frenchman’s untimely departure as their cue to step up a gear, and they got their reward after 68 minutes when, after Koscielny had brought down Best inside the box, Barton converted from the penalty spot.
Alarm bells started ringing for the Gunners when Best struck from close range with 15 minutes remaining, and when Barton drilled home a second penalty with seven minutes to play, a point was there for the taking.
Cheik Tiote saved the best for last when he lashed an 87th-minute left-footed volley into the bottom left corner to complete a remarkable repair job.
Newcastle: Harper, Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini, Jose Enrique, Barton, Tiote, Nolan, Gutierrez, Best (Guthrie 89), Lovenkrands (Ranger 73). Subs Not Used: Krul, Campbell, Perch, Ferguson, Richardson. Booked: Nolan, Jose Enrique.Goals: Barton 68 pen, Best 75, Barton 83 pen, Tiote 87.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou (Squillaci 48), Clichy, Walcott (Eboue 79), Wilshere, Diaby, Fabregas, Arshavin (Rosicky 69), van Persie. Subs Not Used: Almunia, Gibbs, Chamakh, Bendtner. Sent Off: Diaby (50). Booked: Szczesny, Sagna, Eboue. Goals: Walcott 1, Djourou 3, van Persie 10, 26.
Att: 51,561 Ref: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire).