Ba fires hat-trick for high-flying Magpies
Newcastle striker Demba Ba gave Stoke a taste of what they missed out on with a hat-trick as the Magpies won 3-1 to move within a point of second-placed Manchester United.
The Senegal international would have been a Potters player in January as he had already agreed a move from Hoffenheim before the club pulled the plug on the move after he failed their medical.
Ba always rejected the suggestion he was not fit and subsequently joined West Ham before making his way to St James' Park in the summer after their relegation.
The 26-year-old arrived at the Britannia Stadium with a point to prove and he certainly did that as the visitors registered their first league victory at Stoke since 1985 and inflicted only the hosts' second home defeat in 2011.
Ba struck twice in the first half to give his side a comfortable lead and although Jonathan Walters pulled one back with from the spot with 15 minutes remaining Newcastle restored their two-goal cushion with a penalty of their own.
It took Ba's tally to eight goals in his last five Barclays Premier League matches and extended his side's unbeaten start to the season as they moved up to third.
But for all Ba's predatory instincts in front of goal credit has to go to manager Alan Pardew for getting the game plan right.
Key to combating Stoke's strengths is cutting off their delivery at source and Ba was the first line of defence in that respect as he was detailed to get straight on to goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and prevent him kicking out early.
There also was plenty of hard work done out out wide, especially on Newcastle's left, with winger Jonas Gutierrez spending more time doubling up with Ryan Taylor on Jermaine Pennant than he did attacking.
When it came to defending set-pieces striker Leon Best was employed to good effect at the back to combat their opponents' aerial power while Gabriel Obertan occupied a high, wide position to ensure there was always an attacking outlet.
That provided the platform for Ba to do what he does best at the other end and Newcastle's 12th-minute opener would not have looked out of place in the Stoke coaching manual.
Goalkeeper Tim Krul's kick was headed on by Best to Obertan, who found space behind left-back Marc Wilson.
The Frenchman's inviting cross into the six-yard area picked out Ba who expertly twisted his body to head the ball back inside the near post.
Stoke's first defensive reshuffle came when captain Ryan Shawcross had to be replaced by Matthew Upson and had it not been for Begovic charging out of his area Ba would have taken advantage of the reorganisation as he raced to reach Yohan Cabaye's pass.
Krul almost gifted the home side an equaliser when he dropped Andy Wilkinson's high cross and the ball fortuitously rolled behind rather than across his goalline but he made up for it with a diving catch to hang on to Matt Etherington's left-foot volley from outside the penalty area.
And that allowed the Magpies to double their lead five minutes before the interval when Upson could only help Fabricio Coloccini's lofted pass on to Best on the right of the penalty area and he crossed low for Ba to tap in.
Problems continued to mount for Stoke as Robert Huth had to come on for the injured Wilson before the half-time whistle provided the Potters with some respite.
The home side improved after the break with Huth going close with a header but Newcastle, who have conceded seven goals in 10 league matches, defended well.
With still no sign of a breakthrough Kenwyne Jones replaced Etherington for the last quarter and within five minutes Stoke pulled one back.
Upson's goalbound effort was headed away by Coloccini but Ba fouled Peter Crouch in the ensuing scramble and Walters fired home the penalty.
But barely had the recovery begun then it was ended as referee Mike Dean penalised Huth for a push on Best and Ba drilled home from the spot.