Newcastle and Spurs boost hopes
The European ambitions of Newcastle and Tottenham were boosted on Sunday, following a day that could prove harmful for Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool.
Two goals from the increasingly prolific Papiss Demba Cisse lifted Newcastle to an important 2-0 victory over Liverpool at St James' Park, in a game that saw Pepe Reina sent off late on for the visitors.
On an afternoon that saw Andy Carroll ridiculed by the home crowd throughout, the man who inherited his No. 9 shirt on Tyneside showed a clinical edge in front of goal to score either side of half-time and put Alan Pardew's side 11 points ahead of the Reds in the Premier League table to keep their hopes of Champions League qualification alive.
Cisse beat Reina with a pinpoint header from Hatem Ben Arfa's deep cross in the 19th minute to break the deadlock, before profiting from the linesman's inability to spot he was offside to round the goalkeeper and slot home after John Flanagan failed to clear just before the hour-mark.
The match got worse for Dalglish and his team, with goalkeeper Reina given his marching orders by referee Martin Atkinson in the final ten minutes after aiming a headbutt at James Perch following a disagreement; although replays showed contact between the two players was limited.
Subject to a potential FA appeal, Reina will now miss Liverpool's next three games - including the forthcoming FA Cup semi-final against Everton.
Reina's late transgression added to Dalglish's anger - with Liverpool perhaps unlucky not to be given a penalty with the game still goalless after Danny Simpson appeared to handball on the line.
The visitors had their chances, however, with Carroll picking up a booking in the opening 20 minutes after diving over Tim Krul with the goal seemingly at his mercy. Mike Williamson hit the post in between Cisse's two goals, before Perch got his body in the way of Luis Suarez's goalbound effort to prevent a comeback being initiated - with Krul once again stranded.
Carroll - whose first-half header dropped just over the bar in what was perhaps the best chance for an equaliser - was substituted with just under 20 minutes remaining, to gleeful abuse from the Newcastle fans. An irate Reina would follow him soon after - along with any lingering Champions League hopes Liverpool may have held.
Tottenham ended their five-game winless run in the Premier League to move level with Arsenal in the hunt for Champions League places following a 3-1 win over Swansea. Crucially, victory restores Spurs' five-point cushion over fifth-placed Chelsea as they attempt to hang on to a top-four finish.
What was once a title challenge has become an increasingly concerning scrap for a ticket to the Champions League at White Hart Lane, but Harry Redknapp will be feeling easier about the situation after Spurs showed an extra touch of class against an easy-on-the-eye Swansea side.
The Swans made a cultured start but it was Rafael van der Vaart who had the first real chance, set up superbly by Emmanuel Adebayor with his back to goal, only for the Dutchman's first-time effort to be deflected wide.
There was nothing stopping Van der Vaart's next effort in the 19th minute, though, after Gareth Bale had caused Swansea to retreat with a burst down the left flank. The attempted cross was blocked, but the ball fell to the edge of the area where Van der Vaart simply opened his body and caressed a classy strike past Michel Vorm.
Swansea never looked out of their depth, continuing to play their stylish brand of football, and they found an equaliser just before the hour through Gylfi Sigurdsson - at the second attempt. The midfielder's first effort, a glorious 20-yard curler, was superbly saved by the diving Brad Friedel, but his second gave the American no chance as he drilled home on the volley.
The equaliser set up a frantic final half-hour but the winner arrived 15 minutes from time when Van der Vaart once again played a key role, crossing this time for Adebayor to tower above the Swansea defence. Adebayor then scored a carbon copy in the 86th minute from the returning Aaron Lennon's centre.