Could Newcastle's season have been saved if Demba Ba had stayed? With all the injuries his former side have suffered this year, it's unlikely.
That he could have helped the team is beyond question.
In the early part of the campaign, Newcastle were getting results from games they should have lost. Two goals against Everton rescued a point in September, followed by another two against Reading that same month, salvaging something from a game in which they looked second-best.
Strikes against Norwich and West Brom were the difference between the sides, while two more in a 3-0 victory over Wigan gave the Magpies three victories. Discounting the Wigan game, that's eight extra points in four months, solely because of Ba's finishing.
At the end of December, Newcastle had 20 points. Without Ba they would have been in 19th place, just two points above QPR and with an incredibly bleak outlook for 2013.
Using this sample, Newcastle acquired two extra points a month due to their former striker. Stretch that out over the rest of the season and it gives them a further 10 points, meaning that their current total would be 47, good enough for eighth place.
However, that's obviously not an accurate projection, and Newcastle's season doesn't hinge that heavily on the loss of one player. They had many, many players out injured, including Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye. This left them without any creative element in midfield and resulted in a long-ball passing game that heaped pressure on a defence also missing key components.
There's also the matter of Ba's misfiring partnership with Papiss Cisse. When Cisse arrived at the end of last season, his success was at the expense of Ba, who often found himself out wide in a 4-3-3, making way for Cisse to play through the middle.
In an effort to appease both players—and in part due to an ever-worsening injury crisis—Pardew switched to a defensively-minded 4-4-2 that attempted to avoid defeat rather than ensure victory. It was then Cisse's turn to suffer, as he made the same runs as Ba, got in his way and continually strayed offside.
With Ba out of the picture, Cisse has scored his fair share of important goals, especially over the last two months. Wins against Fulham and Stoke were entirely down to Cisse's late strikes, as vital as any that Ba managed.
Although Cisse lacked confidence in the first half of the season, it's entirely possible that he would have emerged from this funk if allowed to dominate the attack. If Ben Arfa and Cabaye had remained healthy, the service would have been better. If Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias had allowed Pardew to spend money in the offseason, the team would have had depth at integral positions.
It's these “ifs” that have formed the basis of a frustrating season for Newcastle. The loss of Ba is just one part of that, and when Cisse arrived, there was talk of him being a replacement for Ba at the end of last season. It was a loss that has been rumoured since the striker's release clause became public news, and one that surprised no one.
His goals are still missed, and there's no doubt that he would've done better with less than Cisse, but the defence were still leaking goals at a worrying rate.
The team's league position would be marginally better, but the points total would still be mediocre. The injuries—which still persist—and lack of depth are the real problems causing Newcastle's poor performances, and there's not much Ba could have done to prevent more defeats.
We are yet to see the best of Newcastle this year, and fans have given up hoping for respectability. They just want survival, which has yet to be secured.
A couple more late goals from Cisse are needed.