Newcastle's relegation fears fade but Stoke face fight to death
Newcastle United 2 Stoke City 1
Two minutes of injury-time had been played and two remained when Papiss Cissé produced his one meaningful contribution of the afternoon. Typically, his first touch, inside the Stoke City penalty area, looped the ball into the air. His second was more telling, striking a shot past Asmir Begovic.
That goal meant Newcastle United and Stoke ended the day level on points, but their respective graphs offer a different story. Stoke are moving downwards; Newcastle are moving up. Stoke have the worst record of a Premier League team in 2013. Stoke have won one game in their last 10. Stoke have scored nine goals away from home all season. Stoke have lost seven of their last nine games. Stoke have won only one of their last 24 away from the Britannia Stadium. It is an easy message to get. With 33 points already, they probably have enough not to worry about what is happening beneath them in the league table. Probably, but not definitely.
Tony Pulis spoke of being "absolutely distraught" after this latest defeat, an emotion brought on both by the loss and the nature of it, which was self-inflicted. He also thought Cissé was lucky still to be on the field of play, and he had a point. The Newcastle forward clashed with Marc Wilson in the 64th minute. In the ensuing coming-together, Cissé appeared to aim a kick at the Stoke defender, who had gone in strongly with a challenge. As Ryan Shawcross, the Stoke captain, stepped in between the pair, Cissé's arm seemed to strike him.
"On another day he might not have been on the pitch," added Pulis. "The referee deemed it was fine and he was still on the pitch; we should have defended it better."
Pulis was prickly in his match assessment. There had been a fractious feel to the game and the two benches had come together in the 71st minute. Alan Pardew, the Newcastle manager, had gone nose to nose with a member of the Stoke backroom staff. It was a key moment. At that point Stoke led. In the 67th minute, Cameron Jerome broke and played a pass to his left, to find Jonathan Walters, who in turn cut into the Newcastle penalty area, where a reckless challenge from Cheick Tioté flattened the Stoke forward. Give Walters his due, despite missing his two previous penalties, he stepped forward, and gave his side the lead in a pretty grim game.
Then Stoke really were the architects of their own downfall. The ball went from Begovic to Steven N'Zonzi to Glenn Whelan and then weakly back to Begovic. The Stoke goalkeeper, under pressure from Yoan Gouffran, parried the ball into the path of Moussa Sissoko, who bore down on goal. Whelan capped off a disastrous moment by clipping the Frenchman's heels. In the following melee, Steven Taylor tried to grab the ball from Begovic as the coaching staff of both sides began arguing with each other.
They at least had correctly read the importance of the situation. From just outside the penalty area, Yohan Cabaye curled a delightful, delicate free-kick off the underside of the crossbar and into the Stoke goal. That changed everything.
Newcastle had belief. In their previous two home games after their January spending, they had come from behind to win, against Southampton and Chelsea. Now they did it again, Sylvain Marveaux providing a moment of real quality to find Cissé, who had been played onside by Wilson, of all people.
"Papiss will be the first to tell you that he was awful today," said Pardew. "He didn't do anything really to influence the game other than do well on some defensive issues for us, but then the moment comes. It is an eye-of-the-needle pass from Marveaux. The ball pops up and most strikers would snatch at that but he let it come all the way down and finished it, in the 92nd minute, and that is not easy to do, trust me.
"To be honest, I think we're done. You've got to get 40 points, of course. We're now seven points away from that with nine games left and you would expect this team to follow through, with the standard now to be able to do that. The bigger picture is to finish strong.
"We can now look forward to Thursday [for the Europa League match against Anzhi Makhachkala] because we could have a really special night here now."