Newcastle United claimed an emphatic 4-1 home victory over Brighton & Hove Albion to take a massive step towards clinching a top-four finish in the Premier League on Thursday.
An own goal by Deniz Undav and a Dan Burn header before the interval put third-placed Newcastle in command.
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But sixth-placed Brighton, themselves seeking to qualify for Europe for the first time, pulled a goal back through Undav.
There were plenty of nerves around St James’ Park as Newcastle squandered chances and Brighton threatened an equaliser but late goals by Callum Wilson and Bruno Guimaraes sparked a party mood inside the stadium.
Newcastle’s players milked the applause after the final whistle and while a top-four finish is still not guaranteed they only need one win from their last two games to be sure.
Eddie Howe’s side have 69 points with fourth-placed Manchester United on 66 with three games still to play. Liverpool, who only have two games left, have 65.
Victory at home against relegation-threatened Leicester City on Monday will guarantee Newcastle Champions League football for the first time in two decades.
“We were outstanding tonight,” Howe told Sky Sports. “That first period was us at our best. I thought we were relentless. It is very difficult to maintain that for the full game.
“The crowd helped get us over the line. The third goal was crucial. It would be incredible if we could (qualify for the Champions League). This is the Premier League and we take nothing for granted.
“We know how good Leicester are, they are fighting at the other end of the table.”
After Newcastle had picked up only one point from their last two games, and with Brighton fresh off the back of a 3-0 win at Arsenal, the match looked like a tricky hurdle for the hosts.
But they dominated the opening exchanges and took the lead after 22 minutes when Kieran Trippier‘s inswinging corner skimmed off the head of Undav and into his own net.
Newcastle’s second goal came from a more likely source as former Brighton defender Burn rose to power in another Trippier delivery in first-half stoppage time.
Brighton goalkeeper Jason Steel kept his side in it soon after the break with a reflex save to deny Miguel Almiron and seconds later the visitors halved the deficit as Billy Gilmour split Newcastle’s defence and Undav slotted past Nick Pope.
Wilson took his league tally for the season to 18 in the last minute after being sent racing clear by Almiron and Guimaraes fired home from close-range in stoppage time.
Brighton need two wins from their last three games to ensure they will play in Europe next season, although one of those matches is against champions-elect Manchester City.