With spotlight on top, Newcastle moves out of EPL drop zone
LONDON (AP) — Less than 24 hours before the global soccer spotlight falls on Leicester in its bid to win the top tier for the first time, Newcastle came out best in the scrapping at the other end of the English Premier League on Saturday.
The Magpies moved out of the drop zone for the first time since February after midfielder Andros Townsend's superb free kick gave Newcastle a 1–0 win over Crystal Palace.
"The victory means a lot, it gives us momentum, confidence and a connection with the fans," said Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez.
Sunderland again had to rely on its top scorer Jermain Defoe, with the striker grabbing a last-minute equalizer from the penalty spot in a 1–1 draw against Stoke, which took the lead through striker Marko Arnautovic.
"Where would we be without Jermain Defoe?" said Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce, before answering his own question. "Relegated probably."
Despite drawing, Sunderland dropped into the relegation zone, one point behind 17th-place Newcastle and one point ahead of 19th-place Norwich, which lost 1–0 at Arsenal after Danny Welbeck's goal in the 59th.
"The last thing you can do down in the dogfight is feel sorry for yourselves," said Norwich manager Alex Neil. "We didn't get what we deserved."
Both Sunderland and Norwich have three games left while Newcastle has two. Aston Villa is already relegated.
At the top, leader Leicester can win the title by beating Manchester United on Sunday.
The victory for Arsenal puts the Gunners provisionally in third place, three points ahead of Manchester City, which plays at Southampton on Sunday.
But the win is unlikely to quell protests against Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
"Everyone is very disappointed. It was a great opportunity for us to go for the title this season and it is difficult to handle the way it is ending," Welbeck said. "We know as a club that we should be doing better than this."
West Ham still has an outside chance of a top-four finish after an easy 3–0 win against West Bromwich Albion. Mark Noble scored twice for the Hammers, who are now provisionally fifth on 59 points, the same as sixth-place Man United ahead of Sunday's game.
Also Saturday, Watford beat Villa 3–2 thanks to a late double from captain Troy Deeney, and Everton overcame Bournemouth 2–1 amid fan protests against manager Roberto Martinez.