Potent Newcastle eye Champions League
Newcastle United 3 Stoke City 0: Pardew's men brush Stoke aside as sixth win on trot lifts them into top four
They used to sing a song about walking in a Kevin Keegan wonderland at St James' Park, and in time that became the property of Sir Bobby Robson. Yesterday, as it has been for a month or two now, the mantle was passed to Alan Pardew.
With a matter of seconds remaining in a hugely impressive display, the Gallowgate End began blasting out that same song, with the opening line, "There's only one Alan Pardew." The Newcastle manager stared momentarily to the back of the famed stand and in that moment felt acceptance and vindication for 15 months' hard work.
It has become a cliché ever since Keegan that Newcastle fans must be left drooling by their players, but the bar was unquestionably raised in that period in which they almost became champions of England.
What graced their ground yesterday is a team that has the kind of swagger, natural ebullience and desire that ensure the city centre's bars do a roaring trade in the immediate aftermath of a match.
Newcastle, in boxing parlance, pinched a round or two in January and February, as they dealt with the African Cup of Nations, but it was enough to keep them on the fringes of contention. An overwhelming victory over Tony Pulis' side was their sixth on the trot, and they have roared into the Champions League equation with every single gun blazing. No one in the quartet chasing the third and fourth place that may or may not be enough to guarantee qualification for the most lucrative club competition in world football, has anything like their momentum.
From that has come a real platform for their flair players to begin to strut around, and there were four yesterday who made light work of everything Stoke could muster. The pick was Yohan Cabaye, who has been some signing, at just £4.3 million. It says something for the confidence Pardew has in his players right now that he is prepared to move them and change formations so regularly. Thus Cabaye was played in the central figure of a three behind lone striker Papiss Cissé. He revelled in the role, scoring twice and creating the other with a truly exquisite pass, before he was substituted on the hour to a deserved standing ovation.
His first was created by Hatem Ben Arfa, and it was rubber stamped with his usual touch of brilliance, tormenting Marc Wilson on the Stoke right before crossing to the far post where Cissé rose well to head against the crossbar, and Cabaye was waiting to head the rebound in. That was after just 14 minutes, and it merely added to the growing belief, both in the stands and on the field, that this could turn into a very special season.
Then, four minutes later, Cabaye surpassed his goal with a sublime moment to send Cissé clean through, dissecting the Stoke defence, and the Senegalese striker became the first Premier League forward this season to score in six successive games with a typically cool finish. Just before the hour mark, Cabaye struck again, this time from the edge of the visitors' penalty area, with a sweetly-struck, slightly bending shot. Then he was gone, but the interplay with Cissé, Demba Ba and Ben Arfa is causing opposition defences major problems.
"We've got momentum and it is a dangerous tool to have in your locker," said Pardew. "We're playing with confidence and we've got ourselves in a fantastic position, perhaps even better than we thought we might be.
"Everyone is contributing, it is not about one player, it is a combination of a lot of things, from Mike Ashley down. A lot of people deserve credit – to win six on the trot is truly outstanding by the players. Our four pronged attack won us the game – they were irrepressible at times."
If Everton fail to win against Manchester United today, then Newcastle will have reached the Europa League, even though all eyes are now on a far bigger prize."That is a big, big achievement by us," added Pardew. "Make no mistake about that. It has been an outstanding season but the city hasn't lost sight there is the chance for us to do something really special."
Stoke had little bar a couple of Jonathan Walters opportunities in reply. "The main difference is that they got into good goal-scoring opportunities and hit the target," said Tony Pulis. "I don't think their keeper had a save to make."
And that just about summed it up.
Newcastle (4-2-3-1): Krul; Simpson (Gosling, 82), William-son, Coloccini, Santon; Tioté, Gutiérrez ; Ben Arfa, Cabaye (Perch, 60), Ba; Cissé (Ameobi, 69).
Stoke (4-4-1-1): Begovic; Wilson, Shawcross, Huth, Wilkinson (Whitehead, 33); Shotton, Whelan, Palacios (Jerome, 55), Etherington; Walters; Crouch.
Referee Andre Marriner.
Man of the match Cabaye (Newcastle).
Match rating 8/10.
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