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Newcastle surge on as Chelsea hold Arsenal

Newcastle United's Shola Ameobi (L) challenges Stoke City's Marc Wilson during their English Premier League soccer match in Newcastle, northern England April 21, 2012.— Reuters pic Newcastle United's Shola Ameobi (L) challenges Stoke City's Marc Wilson during their English Premier League soccer match in Newcastle, northern England April 21, 2012.— Reuters pic NEWCASTLE, April 22 — Newcastle United surged towards Champions League qualification with a 3-0 home win over Stoke City to move into fourth spot in the Premier League yesterday as rivals Arsenal and Chelsea ground out a 0-0 draw and Tottenham Hotspur lost 1-0 at lowly Queens Park Rangers.

Two goals by Frenchman Yohan Cabaye and one from Papiss Cisse gave Newcastle a sixth straight victory to put them three points above Tottenham Hotspur and three behind third-placed Arsenal with a game in hand.

Chelsea, who dug in for a point at Arsenal despite making eight changes from the side that beat Barcelona in midweek, are now four points behind Newcastle with four games left and struggling to qualify for next season's Champions League.

Tottenham's dismal run, which has brought only one win in nine league games, continued as former player Adel Taarabt scored QPR's winner with a free kick before halftime to lift them three points clear of the relegation zone.

Taarabt was later shown a red card but QPR held on.

Blackburn Rovers gave themselves fresh hope of avoiding the drop with a 2-0 home defeat of Norwich City, although they stay in the bottom three, while fellow strugglers Bolton Wanderers drew 1-1 at home to Swansea City.

Wigan Athletic came down to earth after back-to-back wins against Manchester United and Arsenal by losing 2-1 at Fulham, while Aston Villa are still looking over their shoulder after drawing 0-0 at home to Sunderland.

The battle for the Premier League title continues on Sunday, when leaders Manchester United host Everton and second-placed Manchester City go to bottom club Wolverhampton Wanderers, who will be relegated unless they win.

Sandwiched between the first and second legs of Chelsea's Champions League semi-final against Barcelona, the lunchtime London derby at the Emirates proved unappetising with a draw not much use to either club in the light of Newcastle's victory.

Newcastle took full advantage of the stalemate with Cabaye heading them in front from close range before Cisse, whose goals have fired Newcastle upwards, combined with the Frenchman to make it 2-0. Cabaye curled in Newcastle's third after the break.

In the battle to finish in the top four, Arsenal have 65 points from 35 matches, Newcastle have 62 from 34 while Tottenham have 59 from 34. Chelsea, who will try to defend a 1-0 lead in the Nou Camp on Tuesday, are sixth with 58 from 34.

"It's been a great season," said Newcastle manager Alan Pardew. "We targeted the last 10 games and said if we could be in and around it. Now we've just got four left and we'll try and win every one of them."

Drogba missing

Robert Di Matteo's Chelsea, playing their third game in six days, reshuffled their side with Didier Drogba, scorer against Barca, not included because of a knee injury.

They were resolute at the back, with John Terry and Gary Cahill, who repelled everything Barca could throw at them in midweek, again impressive, restricting Arsenal to few chances, the best of which was a Laurent Koscielny header that smacked the crossbar in the opening period.

"It was a brilliant team performance," Di Matteo told Sky Sports. "The organisation, team spirit, effort and commitment was great. It was a magnificent point.

"This was our third game in six days, which personally I feel is crazy but we showed there is a great quality in this team."

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said he was surprised the game had not been more open as fans at the Emirates witnessed a first goalless draw this season, following his side's 2-1 home defeat by Wigan Athletic.

"It was a strange game, they decided to lock it up and catch us on the break," Wenger, who watched Theo Walcott limp off with a hamstring injury, said on Sky. "They waited for us in their half of the pitch and we were not sharp enough to open them up."

Robin van Persie had a frustrating day for Arsenal as he failed to add to his league haul of 27 goals.

The Dutchman, one of seven players booked, failed to connect properly from close range early on and fired another shot too close to Petr Cech when well placed. His best chance arrived after the break when he sliced a right-footed effort wide.

Chelsea had few chances as they elected to play on the break with Daniel Sturridge denied late on by a last-ditch interception by Koscielny as the ball bounced up in the area.

Tottenham had plenty of possession at Loftus Road but the goals have dried up for the north London side, whose season is in danger of ending in failure having spent most of the season in the top four and at one stage challenging for the title.

Taarabt beat Tottenham's veteran keeper Brad Friedel, playing his 300th consecutive Premier League match, with a curling free kick after 24 minutes and the visitors were left to rue missed chances by Rafael van der Vaart and Gareth Bale.

"It's all to play for, we've got four games and we've got to win them," Spurs manager Harry Redknapp said. "We're still a point in front of Chelsea and if we win our games it doesn't matter what they do - it is up to us now." — Reuters

 

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