JAMAAL LASCELLES and Matt Ritchie teamed up again to leave Newcastle fans dreaming of the Champions League once again.
It is 20 years this weekend since a Tino Asprilla-inspired Toon brought down the mighty Barcelona in Europe’s biggest competition.
And they marked the anniversary by notching a third straight win and moving into the top four – temporarily at least.
This win came thanks to the same combination – a Ritchie cross and Lascelles header – that got the winner at Swansea last weekend.
Rafa Benitez was back on the touchline after missing the last game at Swansea due to an infection.
And he got the perfect early tonic as Ritchie floated a dangerous cross over from the right.
It drifted to the back post where Christian Atsu got ahead of Kurt Zouma to stab a volley beyond Jack Butland.
Ritchie then put another on a plate for his skipper Lascelles but he guided his effort narrowly wide when he should have hit the target.
Then a blocked shot from DeAndro Yedlin fell into the path of Joselu but the new boy saw his effort smothered by the England keeper.
Less than half a minute after the re-start, Newcastle could have wrapped it up when Atsu turned provider and played in Joselu.
The Spaniard – who only left Stoke last month – lifted his shot over Butland but it was too high and clipped the top of the bar.
The Toon should have been out of sight but their one-goal lead suddenly began to look slender as Maxim Chuopo-Moting forced a smart save out of Rob Elliot.
And it was no great surprise when the visitors levelled before the hour as Xherdan Shaqiri jinked past a couple of men.
The Swiss ace still had plenty to do but calmly curved a low shot just beyond the reach of Elliot.
The visitors could have gone ahead as a cross from the left by Shaqiri was met by the head of Mame Biram Diouf but Elliot made a super flying save.
If anything the visitors were looking the more likely yet it was Newcastle who edged back in front.
A corner from the right by Ritchie was met by skipper Lascelles who thumped a header beyond Butland and into the roof of the net.
Delighted Magpies chief Rafa Benitez said: “The fans, when you win so many games in a row, they are excited and thinking about Europe. for me it is one game at a time.
“This group of players works very hard. Sometimes we have some problems, but with the chances we can create we know they can give us the points.
It is a very competitive league and we are learning from that.”
Potters manager Mark Hughes was upset his side’s display had dropped off from recent standards.
He said: “We were loose in our general play and the accuracy of our passing.
“We have played better than that in recent weeks.
“Second half we controlled the game for the vast majority – they were just looking to break on us. We didn’t quite do our jobs at a corner and Jack [Butland] wasn’t able to save it.
“We went for it at the end but it wasn’t to be.
“We are a good side and we can knock it around but at key moments we have to be clinical.”
FACTS, STATS, GOALS & LOLS
- Rafa Benitez will be reluctant to criticse Newcastle not just because this was their third straight win. He claimed he had a better view of his players’ mistakes when he watched their 1-0 win at Swansea from his sofa.
- Christian Atsu more than justified his recall in the Magpies’ win – proving the main menace for most of the match.
- Xherdan Shaqiri’s classy goal for Stoke was his sixth Premier League strike in a row from outside the area.
- Newcastle won despite having only 42 per cent of the possession.
DREAM TEAM RATINGS
STAR MAN – MATT RITCHIE (Newcastle)
Newcastle: Elliot 7, Yedlin 6, Lascelles 7, Clark 6, Mbemba 7, Hayden 6, Merino 7, Ritchie 7, Perez 7, Atsu 7, Joselu 6.
Subs: Shelvey (Hayden 69) 6, Gayle (Joselu 78) 6, Diame (Perez 86) 6. Not used: Woodman, Murphy, Manquilo, Lejeune. Booked: Hayden, Clark, Merino.
Stoke: Butland 5, Zouma 7, Martins Indi 6, Wimmer 6, Diouf 6, Allen 7, Fletcher 6, Pieters, Shaqiri 7, Choupo-Moting 6, Rodriguez 6. Subs: Sobhi (Rodriguez 62) 6, Crouch (Allen 84) 6. Not used: Grant, Johnson, Berahino, Tymon, Adam. Booked: Wimmer.
Referee: Stuart Attwell.
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