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Apr 21, 2012

Spurs lose, Newcastle capitalise

Newcastle are now in prime position to seal a place in next season's Champions League competition after Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham all dropped points on Saturday. Meanwhile, at the bottom, Blackburn boosted their hopes of beating the drop with victory over Norwich, increasing the pressure on Wigan, Bolton and Aston Villa who all failed to win.

Tottenham needed to defeat QPR in the day's late kick-off in order to oust Newcastle from the top four, but Harry Redknapp's men were defeated 1-0 at Loftus Road. The result leaves Spurs three points adrift of the Champions League places with only four games remaining.

The game carried every bit as much significance for QPR, who found themselves level with 18th-placed Blackburn at kick-off. Victory, which came courtesy of a goal from Spurs old-boy Adel Taarabt, lifts QPR above Wigan into 16th, three clear of the drop.

Mark Hughes' side made a fast start on home soil, with Jamie Mackie and Samba Diakite both going close. They got their reward in the 23rd minute when Brad Friedel was slow to get across to Taarabt's free-kick, which nestled in the bottom corner.

Tottenham had their moments, with Gareth Bale seeing a free header tipped over by Paddy Kenny, while Rafael van der Vaart also looked threatening. The relentless Spurs side of the early stages of the season was not on show though, and QPR held on despite a 78th-minute red card for Taarabt for a second bookable offence.

Newcastle already knew of Chelsea's dropped points at Arsenal before they kicked off at home to Stoke, and the Magpies put four points between themselves and the Blues with a 3-0 victory courtesy of goals from Yohan Cabaye(2) and Papiss Cisse.

It took just 14 minutes for Alan Pardew's men to strike at St James' Park, and the goal was down to the wonderful work of Hatem Ben Arfa. Dropping his shoulder, the imaginative Frenchman passed his marker before crossing for Cisse, whose header hit the bar and bounced out for the grateful Cabaye to nod home.

Four minutes later the lead was doubled and this time Cabaye turned provider, sliding a classy through-ball beyond Stoke's stationary defenders. Cisse latched onto the pass and simply had to beat the keeper, which he did left-footed for 2-0.

In what has turned out to be a terrific season for Newcastle, this was one of their best performances as they continued to turn on the style, Cabaye curling a beauty for 3-0, and the scoreline could have been greater by full-time.

Chelsea failed to close the gap on third-placed Arsenal and left themselves with plenty to do if they are to qualify for next season's Champions League as they were held 0-0 at Emirates Stadium.

Ahead of their Champions League semi-final second leg at Barcelona, Blues boss Roberto Di Matteo made eight changes from the side that beat Barcelona on Wednesday. Fernando Torres started in the absence of the injured Didier Drogba, while Petr Cech, Gary Cahill and John Terry were the only survivors from midweek.

In an end-to-end game, Arsenal were left to rue a host of missed opportunities as they dropped points for the second successive league game. Robin van Persie's effort from Theo Walcott's curled free-kick edged wide as the Dutchman failed to steer it inside the far post, and then Van Persie's free-kick shortly before half-time found an unmarked Laurent Koscielny, but the Frenchman's header rattled the crossbar.

As the clock ticked towards full-time Van Persie fell in the penalty area under pressure from Cahill, but the referee waved play on. Chelsea had their chances; Terry mistiming his header and Torres caused problems for the Arsenal defence, but neither side was able to find the net in a lively London derby.

The relegation picture looks decidedly rosier for Blackburn after they beat Norwich 2-0 at Ewood Park. The result leaves Rovers adrift of safety only on goal difference with nine points left to play for.

Under-fire boss Steve Kean recalled fan-favourite Gael Givet for his first appearance since February 4, and the decision led to an inspired first-half showing from Rovers. Norwich were fortunate not to concede a penalty inside the opening quarter of an hour as Russell Martin appeared to handle inside the area, and Blackburn then could have led when Yakubu's overhead kick from five yards hit a post.

The opening goal did arrive just before half-time with Yakubu involved once again, showing great patience down the left as he waited for support. Eventually the ball was played to Morten Gamst Pedersen, who crossed for Mauro Formica to give Blackburn the lead.

Kean's men secured breathing space five minutes into the second period thanks to a brilliant strike from Junior Hoilett, attacking from the flank before drilling into the top corner. That sparked a change in the pattern of the game as Rovers began to protect what they had, but Norwich could not find a way back despite becoming a growing presence in the contest.

Aston Villa continue to face an uncertain future although they must just have done enough to secure their top-flight status after they drew 0-0 at home to Sunderland. Villa have now not won in their last six outings and find themselves within five points of the bottom three.

In a forgettable game that saw Nicklas Bendtner have a goal incorrectly chalked off for offside, the home side lost both Gabriel Agbonlahor and James Collins to injuries. Craig Gardner was also dismissed for a second bookable offence in injury-time.

Elsewhere, Wigan's incredible run of results, which had seen them take 12 points from an available 15, failed to continue at Fulham, who came from behind to win 2-1, leaving Wigan three points from the drop zone. The Latics took the lead at Craven Cottage as Emerson Boyce rifled home from the edge of the area, but within seconds they were pegged back by Pavel Pogrebnyak.

Pogrebnyak then hit a post as Fulham pushed for a winner, and it arrived in the final minute of normal time through Philippe Senderos as the Cottagers moved up to ninth.

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