Magpies' European target is acquired

The Northern Echo: MAN OF THE MATCH: Yohan Cabaye MAN OF THE MATCH: Yohan Cabaye

Newcastle United 3 Stoke City 0

NEWCASTLE UNITED produced their first ever 3D match programme on Saturday, but ultimately it was their European vision that was further enhanced with a mouth-watering performance against Stoke City.

Until now, Newcastle's chances of finishing in the Premier League's top four was a fanciful thought on Tyneside, but rather than settling for a place in the Europa League an assault on the Champions League places is now very much on.

Alan Pardew's men have spent the entire season sitting on the doorstep of their first European campaign since 2006-07, but their sixth consecutive league win saw the Magpies place a heavy knock on the Champions League door.

A 3-0 demolition of Tony Pulis' side left Newcastle supporters singing in the rain on a Saturday evening that got even better with the news that Tottenham had lost at Queen's Park Rangers in the late kick-off.

That means Newcastle will go into this weekend's trip to struggling Wigan sitting pretty in the top four, three points ahead of the north London club and with bagfuls of confidence.

Staggeringly, though, they are now only three points behind third-placed Arsenal with a game in hand over the Gunners and in this sort of form you would be foolish to dismiss the possibility of finishing even higher.

The manner in which they dismantled a Stoke side known for their robust defensive capabilities sent a shuddering message out to the rest of the European contenders, but it was the sheer style and class of French duo Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa that really lit up St James' Park.

On a week when the squad were treated to a feast of fillet steak, rack of lamb and croissants for a French-themed day at the training ground, it was no surprise their French contingent shone on Saturday.

In truth, there wasn't one bad performance from a player wearing black and white. Papiss Cisse bagged his customary goal to take his breathtaking tally to 11 in ten, Demba Ba worked his socks off from start to finish, while further back Jonas Gutierrez and Cheik Tiote offered reliable protection to the Magpies back line.

It has been this kind of team performance that has got Newcastle where they are today. An unbreakable dressing room spirit twinned with a hard-working team ethic has been the recipe for success on Tyneside this season and Magpies boss Pardew admits the camaraderie amongst his players is like nothing he has ever experienced.

"There is a great feeling among our players," Pardew said. "Even Steve Harper played a key role today, he could have been on the bench depending on whether Tim recovered, he is a legend in these parts Harps, and he still played a massive role behind the scenes even though he was not involved.

"There is that kind of leadership all around the squad which has got us where we are.

"I have played in a very good Crystal Palace team, which finished third in this division and I had a very good side at West Ham, but I've not had the camaraderie of this group.

"I hope that means the players we have got all want to stay and we can do it all again next year because clubs will look at these players now and try and take them off our hands, it might be that belief and love they have for each other which will keep them here.

"I am hoping that we get to such a point where there is not really many places above where they can go. That is what we really want."

Newcastle produced an attacking master class against the Potters, who were left shell-shocked when they found themselves 2-0 down after 20 minutes.

The first was a goal made and finished in France. The lively Ben Arfa drifted over to the left and after leaving Marc Wilson for dead with a drop of the shoulder and some neat footwork, he sent in a cross to Cisse at the back post.

The chance appeared to have gone begging when his header crashed back off Asmir Begovic's crossbar, but the ball fell to Cabaye, who neatly finished from close range.

Four minutes later Cabaye was involved again, but this time he turned provider to set up Cisse to score in his sixth successive game.

The finish - a low first-time shot on the spin - was special in itself, but the inch perfect pass from Cabaye that split Stoke's defence in two was even better.

The goals came after Jon Walters had enjoyed an early chance for Pulis' side, but after that they rarely posed a threat to Coloccini and Co and the Magpies were allowed to stroke the ball around and wait for their next opportunity to pounce.

That chance came in the 57th minute, when after some neat interplay between Cisse and Ba the ball fell to Cabaye on the edge of the area, and the Frenchman struck a delicate shot across Begovic and into the far corner.

Yesterday's draw between Manchester United and Everton means Newcastle are guaranteed to finish sixth at least, meaning European football will return to Tyneside next season.

But the question now is in which competition? That will be down to whether the Magpies can continue their rich vein of form, but with the momentum firmly behind them, Pardew admits his side are the team to beat going into the final four games.

"Momentum at this club can be a powerful force," he said. "I am lucky not to have been here when it is going the other way, because playing in front of 52,000 when it is not going well must be tough I am sure of that but this year the momentum is with us.

"I drove in and had a coffee early this morning and you can feel the buzz. The fans were out early, getting themselves prepared for the game and you can feel the atmosphere.

"We are not going to put the dream down and throw any cliches at it. But we simply have a chance.

"Football is important in this city there are a lot of people out of work and when you look elsewhere it is a tough environment for businesses and for people to earn money, but when they come to the stadium they see a team playing like we are today and it just lifts you and they can take that back into the workplace."

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