Newcastle up to 4th as Stoke outclassed


Newcastle United moved into pole position in the race for a Champions League place by thrashing hapless Stoke 3-0 in a one-sided encounter at St James’ Park. Alan Pardew’s side were rank outsiders for a top four slot at the start of the spring but in-form and scoring freely, they now look like the team to beat in the scramble for a place among Europe’s elite. The identity of their goalscorers in this three-goal battering of the Potters carried a familiar ring to it.
After Yohan Cabaye opened the scoring by nipping in front of a dawdling Stoke defence to nod home from close range it was Papiss Demba Cisse who doubled the advantage with his eleventh goal since a January switch from Freiburg.
Cabaye added a third in the second half with a crisp drive from the edge of the penalty area to put the result beyond doubt and accurately reflect Newcastle’s total dominance of the game. In this sort of form, their capital rivals for the Champions League should be very worried of Newcastle’s challenge for the top four.
Stoke are no pushovers but Newcastle never allowed them time to settle, and in Hatem Ben Arfa they possessed the game’s most potent attacking threat. He punctured a cagey opening by waltzing past Marc Wilson with a delightful shimmy before chipping into the box for Cisse.
The Senegal striker uncharacteristically clipped the bar with his looping header but Cabaye was on hand to give the home side a 14th minute lead.
The advantage was doubled just four minutes later and Cabaye was again in the thick of things, dissecting the Potters defence with a wonderful pass to tee up Cisse – who struck with a first time shot past Asmir Begovic. Stoke looked shell-shocked, and their resistance was limited to a Peter Crouch pot shot that Tim Krul watched glide harmlessly over the bar. Newcastle, by contrast, were enjoying themselves and thanks to the excellent Ben Arfa they were enjoying the best of the possession and chances. Left-back Davide Santon took on three red and white shirts before seeing Begovic stoop low to prevent him from a memorable first Premier League goal.
If an animated Tony Pulis had hoped for a reaction from his side in the second half, he was to be disappointed.
Newcastle began the second period on the front foot and Demba Ba was denied in the first minute of the half by a brave Begovic save. It was merely a case of delaying the inevitable, though. Ba combined brilliantly with Cisse but when the ball bobbled out towards Cabaye, the France midfielder reacted superbly to sweep a majestic dipping shot over Begovic.
Stoke couldn’t muster much of a response. Crouch attempted to angle a volley in from close range but substitute James Perch blocked his effort with an excellent flying block to frustrate the England striker. United ended the game in the ascendancy. Ba failed to grab the goal his fine work deserved but Cheick Tiote nearly added number four with a fizzing 30-yard effort that Begovic tipped over brilliantly. The Israeli had to react smartly minutes later when Tiote again tried his luck from his distance – this time Begovic parried wide.
Relegation still haunts Villa after stalemate: Aston Villa remain on the fringes of the relegation dog-fight after a dour 0-0 draw against 10-man Sunderland on Saturday. Alex McLeish’s side could have moved to within touching distance of Premier League survival with a win at Villa Park, but instead they face a nervous finale to a troubled season. The Midlands outfit are five points clear of the bottom three with four games remaining after failing to break down a stubborn Sunderland team, who had former Villa midfielder Craig Gardner sent off in second-half stoppage-time. It was a disappointing afternoon for Sunderland coach Martin O’Neill, who was greeted with boos from Villa fans after walking out on their club on the eve of last season. With survival on the agenda, it was Villa who set the early tempo and the hosts came close to taking the lead inside the first 60 seconds.
Dortmund must wait as Ribery rescues Bayern: France star Franck Ribery hit a 90th-minute winner on Saturday as Bayern Munich poached a 2-1 win at Werder Bremen to delay Borussia Dortmund’s title celebrations. Dortmund will be confirmed as German champions for the second season running if they win at Moenchengladbach later on Saturday evening, but they almost won the title without kicking a ball before Ribery’s late winner in Bremen.
Bremen’s Brazil defender Naldo was both hero and villain for his team as his 51st-minute strike from a Claudio Pizarro header put the hosts ahead before an own goal just 14 minutes later allowed Bayern back in the game. With Bayern pushing forward, Ribery came off the bench with 25 minutes left to hit the winner with time almost up to save Bayern’s blushes and keep Dortmund’s champagne on ice prior to the game against fourth-placed Gladbach.