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Newcastle turn heat on Spurs in top four battle

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LONDON, England, April 9 – Newcastle United moved level on points with fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur as the battle for Champions League qualification from the Premier League intensified Monday.

Newcastle’s 2-0 win over strugglers Bolton combined with Tottenham’s 2-1 loss at home to Norwich left the Champions League rivals together on 59 points.

Chelsea, the lone English semi-finalist in this season’s Champions League, can join Newcastle and Tottenham on 59 points if they beat London rivals Fulham in Monday’s late kick-off.

And the Blues will leapfrog the Magpies and Spurs into fourth place if they win by two goals or better.

The Premier League’s top three clubs go into the first round of the Champions League proper, with the fourth-placed side set for a qualifying round.

After a goalless first half at St James’, France midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa gave Newcastle a sensational 73rd minute lead when he beat several Bolton defenders before slipping the ball into the corner.

“It was a special, special goal from Ben Arfa and we needed that today,” Newcastle manager Alan Pardew told Sky Sports.

“He can make the difference in tight games and not many players are blessed with the talent he has.

“He’s got that magic touch. Hopefully, it will edge the French manager (Laurent Blanc) to include him in the French squad (for Euro 2012).”

Newcastle’s in-form Senegal striker Papiss Demba Cisse, one of the signings of the season, then made it 10 goals in nine games when, from close range, he turned in Shola Ameobi’s cross seven minutes from time.

Tottenham fell behind at White Hart Lane when Anthony Pilkington capitalised on a mix-up in the Spurs defence to fire the Canaries into a 13th minute lead.

But England striker Jermain Defoe drew Tottenham level after the half-hour mark in controversial fashion.

Norwich appealed for a penalty when Spurs defender Ledley King appeared to grab hold of forward Grant Holt’s shirt but play continued and the home side broke down the other end, with Jake Livermore setting up Defoe, who produced a cool finish.

However, the Canaries — all but assured of safety following promotion from the Championship last season — saw winger Elliott Bennett lash the ball past Brad Friedel as the Spurs defence backed off to make it 2-1 in the 66th minute.

Defeat meant Tottenham, whose form has dipped since Harry Redknapp was installed as favourite to become England manager following Fabio Capello’s resignation, had won just one of their last eight league games.

And this was not what they wanted ahead of Sunday’s all-London FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea.

“Credit to them (Norwich) as I think they deserved it,” said Redknapp.

“I thought they bullied us a little bit. It was a difficult day for the boys at the back. It was a bad day but we have to pick ourselves up.”

Delighted Norwich manager Paul Lambert added: “That was phenomenal. From start to finish we were brilliant. I told the players I have seen some big games in my time and that was colossal.”

Everton warmed up for their FA Cup semi-final against Merseyside rivals Liverpool at Wembley on Saturday by thrashing Sunderland 4-0 at Goodison Park.

All of the home side’s goals came in a second-half spree, with winger Magaye Gueye firing Everton ahead in the 52nd minute.

The Frenchman then turned provider as South Africa’s Steven Pienaar sealed victory with a 75th minute shot from the edge of the box.

Barely 60 seconds later Leon Osman made it 3-0 before Nigerian striker Victor Anichebe added a fourth nine minutes from time, with Everton resting several players ahead of the Cup semi-final.

Aston Villa, still not assured of safety, face Stoke in Monday’s other Premier League fixture.

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