Newcastle sweeps Stoke aside
Yohan Cabaye produced a midfield masterclass as Newcastle cruised past Stoke 3-0 to edge themselves closer to Champions League qualification.
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The France international scored twice and provided the glorious pass from which striker Papiss Cisse took his tally to 11 goals in 10 games in a stunning individual display.
His contribution helped to claim a sixth successive Barclays Premier League victory for the Magpies which leaves them four points clear of Champions League semi-finalists Chelsea with just four games to play.
The sides meet at Stamford Bridge on May 2 when victory for either could prove decisive.
Alan Pardew's men were simply too good for Stoke and having gone ahead through Cabaye's 14th-minute header, never looked back.
Cisse made it 2-0 with a cool finish four minutes later, but Cabaye's second, an inch-perfect curling shot 12 minutes after the restart, was the pick of the bunch on an afternoon when the bulk of a crowd of 52,162 headed for home dreaming of Europe.
Newcastle ran out knowing victory would take them into fourth place, for a few hours at least, but perhaps more importantly, give them a healthy advantage over sixth-placed Chelsea.
The return of Cheick Tiote provided added steel in the midfield, but what promised to be a battle developed into something of a stroll.
Stoke started brightly and they might have gone ahead with just 10 minutes gone.
England striker Peter Crouch, who had got little change out of his early duels with Mike Williamson, climbed high above the defender to head down Marc Wilson's long ball, but Jonathan Walters volleyed high over.
But the game changed within four minutes as Pardew's men flexed their muscles to go ahead.
More precisely, they showcased the individual talent of Frenchman Hatem Ben Arfa who, having spent most of his time until that point wide on the right, turned up on the left to bamboozle Wilson and chip an inviting cross to the far post.
Cisse's eyes lit up as he powered a header back across keeper Asmir Begovic and waited for the net to bulge, but his disappointment at seeing the ball come back off the crossbar was short-lived as Cabaye stopped to convert the rebound.
Roles were reversed four minutes later as Stoke were carved wide open by the brilliance of the former Lille midfielder.
Cabaye collected Jonas Gutierrez's pass in the middle of the field and, having spotted Cisse's run, slid an inch-perfect ball into his path for the Senegal international to dispatch it left-footed past the helpless Begovic.
The Frenchman's individual display was a joy to behold as he ran the game in front of the combative Tiote with Stoke threateningly sporadically from set-pieces, but without forcing keeper Tim Krul to make a save.
It seemed only a matter of time before Newcastle added to their lead, and it took a smart diving save by Begovic to deny full-back Davide Santon after he ran on to another Cabaye pass.
Pardew will no doubt have warned his troops to be prepared for a backlash in the wake of opposite number Tony Pulis' half-time team talk, but they might have extended their lead within seconds of the restart.
Ben Arfa slipped effortlessly past Matthew Etherington on the right before floating another teasing cross to the far post, where leading scorer Demba Ba without a goal since February 5, chose to chest it down rather than head directly at goal and saw Begovic make a vital block.
Ba and Cisse were proving too hot for Stoke to handle, and they combined to good effect once again with eight minutes of the half played for latter to find the back of the net from close range after Begovic had spilled the former's shot, although from an offside position.
But they had to wait just four minutes longer for the third goal to arrive when, after Ben Arfa and Ba had probed at the visitors' defense to little real effect, Cabaye took charge to curl an unstoppable shot across Begovic and into the bottom corner.
Pardew decided Cabaye's work was done four minutes later when he replaced him
with James Perch to a standing ovation from an appreciative crowd.
The newcomer distinguished himself within seconds when he hurled himself into the path of Crouch's goal-bound shot.
Newcastle were in rampant mood and Ba forced another save from Begovic before skipper Fabricio Coloccini headed wide.
Begovic had to pull off fine saves to deny Tiote twice within the final four minutes and spare his side further punishment.