NINETY minutes of football at St James’ Park has left Newcastle United’s fate no clearer. The Magpies could finish third when the Premier League 2011/12 table is published for the final time, or sixth. Or anywhere in between.
North London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur both dropped points at the weekend, while Chelsea were busy winning the FA Cup at Wembley, and will not play their 37th game until tomorrow, when Liverpool are once more the opponents. But Newcastle’s failure to pull off the shock result Manchester United fans had been hoping against hope for left them unable to capitalise. In some senses, their 2-0 defeat makes for a complicated last day. In others it is very straightforward.
“We have to win at Everton, which might not be enough, but that’s what we need to do,” explained manager Alan Pardew. “There is no draw and looking at results, we need to win.”
Draw, and the best Newcastle can hope for is the fifth place they currently occupy. Arsenal and Spurs both drew matches they were expected to win at the weekend – against Norwich City and Aston Villa respectively. That, combined with the uncertainty over whether fourth place will secure qualification for the Champions League, will make it a twitchy Sunday for two clubs who view the competition as an expectation, not an aspiration.
“They were significant results,” Pardew admitted. “They both need to win now and that’s pressure that could help us.”
Arsenal only need a point to finish in the Champions League position, but they need to win because fourth is not guaranteed to bring the reward because of Chelsea. If Chelsea beat Bayern Munich in the European Cup final on May 19, they will qualify for next season’s competition.
The top three will join them. An inferior goal difference means Newcastle’s sole hope of leapfrogging Arsenal is combining victory at Everton with a Gunners defeat at West Bromwich Albion.
They also need Fulham to win or draw at Spurs to have any chance of overtaking Harry Redknapp’s men.
If Chelsea win both this week’s games, against Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle must beat Everton to finish above them. The sides who do not reach the Champions League go into the Europa League.