LONDON, England, April 10 – Chelsea were left two points adrift of one of the four Champions League places on offer to English teams as Newcastle stole a march on their rivals for top-class European club football on Monday.
Chelsea were held to a 1-1 draw by Fulham, having kicked off knowing they needed to win by two clear goals to go above Newcastle and Tottenham Hotspur into fourth on goal difference after the Magpies beat Bolton 2-0 and Spurs lost 2-1 to Norwich earlier Monday.
The Blues were left two points shy of both Tottenham — their opponents in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Sunday — and Newcastle with five league games of the season left.
Frank Lampard put Chelsea in front at a rainswept Craven Cottage by scoring his 150th Premier League goal — the first midfielder to reach that landmark — from the penalty spot on the stroke of half-time.
But eight minutes from time, United States international Clint Dempsey equalised for Fulham when his header from a corner deflected in off Chelsea defender Gary Cahill.
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.
However, Chelsea could scupper the qualification hopes of any other side that finish fourth by winning this season’s Champions League.
Chelsea are the only English side left in the tournament, although they are up against defending champions Barcelona in the semi-finals.
Interim Chelsea manager Roberto di Matteo said a draw was a fair result.
“I thought we were quite in control of the game, to be honest, and maybe we didn’t pose them a threat enough for the second goal,” he told Sky Sports.
“But we’re still in there, hanging in there.
“We knew Craven Cottage is a difficult place to come. We’re getting closer to the teams ahead of us.”
At St James’ Park, France midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa gave Newcastle a sensational 73rd minute lead when he beat several defenders before slipping the ball into the corner.
Newcastle and Senegal striker Papiss Demba Cisse then made it 10 goals in nine games when, from close range, he turned in Shola Ameobi’s cross seven minutes from time.
“It was a special, special goal from Ben Arfa,” said Newcastle manager Alan Pardew. “Hopefully, it will edge the French manager (Laurent Blanc) to include him in the French squad (for Euro 2012).”
Tottenham fell behind at White Hart Lane when Anthony Pilkington fired the Canaries into a 13th minute lead.
But England striker Jermain Defoe drew Tottenham level 20 minutes later.
However, Norwich 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 had won just once in eight league games.
“It was a bad day but we have to pick ourselves up,” said Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp.
Everton warmed up for their FA Cup semi-final against Merseyside rivals Liverpool at Wembley on Saturday with a 4-0 home rout of Sunderland.
All of the goals at Goodison Park 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.
Victory also saw seventh-placed Everton go four points clear of Liverpool in their bid to finish above their neighbours for the first time since 2005.
Elsewhere, Aston Villa opened up a seven-point gap between themselves and the bottom three after a 1-1 draw at home to Stoke.
Andreas Weimann’s 32nd minute curling shot put Villa ahead before Robert Huth equalised for Stoke when he headed in a free-kick 19 minutes from time.