Predicted by many to struggle at the start of the Premier League season, Newcastle United stayed in the hunt for Champions League qualification as top-four rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea faltered on Monday.
A 2-0 victory over Bolton Wanderers hauled Newcastle above Chelsea into fifth place after the west Londoners were held to a 1-1 draw at neighbors Fulham.
Newcastle are only out of the Champions League spots on goal-difference, with Tottenham clinging on to fourth spot after a surprise 2-1 loss at home to Norwich City.
“To have this points total and not make Europe would be tough to take,” Newcastle manager Alan Pardew said. “So we have got to keep our eye on the ball and we aren’t giving up on anything — apart from winning it.”
The northeast club went in front in the 73rd minute against Bolton through a fine solo goal from Hatem Ben Arfa, who dribbled through the defense, before dispatching the ball into the net.
Papiss Cisse’s 10th goal in nine appearances since joining the club rounded off the victory after he latched onto Shola Ameobi’s cross.
“If [it] works in our favor, then really, really there is nothing left to go for but the Champions League,” Pardew said.
Chelsea squandered a chance to move up to fourth for the first time in two months after conceding a late equalizer at Fulham in the evening game.
Chelsea had been on course for a third successive league win after Frank Lampard scored from the penalty spot on the stroke of halftime, his 150th Premier League goal, but Clint Dempsey headed in his 22nd goal of the season in all competitions for Fulham in the 82nd minute, with Chelsea defender Gary Cahill’s back helping the ball into the net.
Chelsea will have to win the Champions League for the first time to qualify for the competition again next season if they do not finish in the top four.
The Blues face Barcelona in the semi-finals on Wednesday next week, three days after their FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham.
The priority is making up the two points on Newcastle and Tottenham in the league.
“We’re still in there, hanging in there,” Chelsea interim coach Roberto Di Matteo said. “We knew Craven Cottage is a difficult place to come. We’re getting closer to the teams ahead of us.”
Third place had appeared to have been sealed by Spurs until their collapse to throw away a 10-point advantage over Arsenal, who now have a two-point cushion in third with a game in hand.
Spurs had little hope of overcoming Norwich when their defense was so disorganized and it was a mishap in the 13th minute that gifted the visitors the opener.
Aaron Wilbraham’s shot was blocked by Younes Kaboul, but Kyle Walker fluffed his attempt to clear the danger, the ball ricocheting off Tottenham defender Ledley King and Pilkington pounced to fire past goalkeeper Brad Friedel.
Norwich could have been further ahead after failing to receive a penalty despite Spurs defender Ledley King appearing to push Grant Holt off the ball.
Norwich manager Paul Lambert was furious and his rage was only incensed by the hosts launching a counterattack to equalize, Jermain Defoe racing onto Jake Livermore’s pass and lifting the ball over advancing goalkeeper John Ruddy.
Norwich were denied another penalty on the hour when Emmanuel Adebayor’s push on Wilbraham went unpunished, but the visitors were rewarded through an impressive winner from Bennett, who was lashed the ball into the net from outside the penalty area in the 66th minute.