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17:00 12th April 2014

Pieters Preserves Potters Run

ERIK PIETERS ensured his side a fourth consecutive Premier League victory at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday afternoon and moved the Potters to within just three points of the Magpies in the Premier League table.

The Dutch international defender secured maximum points for his side with a fortuitous effort from an acute angle shortly before the half-time interval to keep the race for ninth wide open going into the final four games of the campaign.

The three points were no more than Mark Hughes' side had deserved having looked by far the more likely of the two sides to add to the afternoon's tally, with Peter Crouch guilty of spurning three glorious opportunities to rub further salt into Newcastle's wounds.

There were several brief moments of nervousness in the dying stages as the visitors threw everything forward in the four minutes of added time, but despite the efforts of former Stoke loanee Shola Ameobi and Vernon Anita, Mark Hughes' side held on for another top-flight triumph.

Prior to kick-off Hughes made just one change to the elven from the one that succumbed to a 3-0 defeat against Chelsea seven days earlier.

Stephen Ireland overcame a bout of illness to earn himself a recall to the team, at the expense of Honduras international Wilson Palacios, who dropped down to the bench.

After an impeccably observed minute silence from the home supporters, in memory of those who lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster, the Potters faithful soon turned up the ante as they looked to roar their side on to another Britannia Stadium victory.

The odds of a ninth success on home turf this season should have been dramatically shortened five minutes in, when a superb passage of play down the left culminated in the superb Marko Arnautovic picking out Crouch with a sensational delivery, only for the frontman to plant his header against the post.

At the other end, the Magpies went close to breaking the deadlock themselves during a frantic opening to the encounter when Dan Gosling stole a march on Ryan Shawcross, who was making his 200th top-flight appearance, flicked the ball over Asmir Begovic, and thankfully for the hosts, over the crossbar too.

A superb piece of defending from former PSV star Pieters denied Gosling the chance of making amends for his earlier miss, as he looked set to fire home from the angle after bursting past Marc Wilson.

Arnautovic was proving a real nuisance to the United backline with his pace and trickery causing them no end of problems on the left flank, and it was the Austrian who laid it on a plate for Peter Odemwingie midway through the half although the Nigerian surprisingly failed to make the most of the chance presented to him.

With the half looking destined to end in stalemate, the home side were indebted to a large slice of fortune as the deadlock was broken in the most fortuitous of circumstances courtesy of a cross-cum-shot from Pieters, that left Tim Krul helpless in goal.

With the majority of supporters inside the stadium still on their feet, there was very nearly an immediate response from Alan Pardew's side as Cheick Tiote forced Begovic into a smart save down to his left, whilst just 30 seconds later Yoan Gouffran should have done better after Glenn Whelan was dispossessed inside his own half.

The start of the second half heralded an almost identical passage of play as the opening minutes of the first period with Crouch again going close to adding to his season's tally after being picked out by the intelligent Arnautovic.

The England ace was at the thick of the action once more moments later, and again will have felt aggrieved not to have found the back of the net, after his diving header was saved by Krul following a pin-point ball across the 6-yard box from American international Geoff Cameron.

Hughes introduced Charlie Adam from the bench at the expense of Ireland with 20 minutes remaining, and he almost made an immediate impact having latched onto a sublime through ball from Arnautovic, but wasn't able to guide his strike on target, despite beating the outstretched Krul.

As had been the case on the other handful occasions Arnautovic had found himself in a dangerous position, he once again displayed his incredible talent by leaving Anita for dead, and letting rip a wonderful ball across goal, that just managed to evade the approaching Crouch.

Pardew, watching on from the director's box as he continues to serve a touchline ban, thrust both Adam Armstrong and Hatem Ben Arfa into action in the final stages in a late bid to salvage what would have been an undeserved point for his side.

It very nearly paid dividends as the pair helped spark a more urgent showing from the visitors in stoppage time, but thankfully for the home side, the missed opportunities weren't to be punished as firstly Anita, and then Ameobi headed over from close range.

The final whistle was met with jubilation from the home supporters inside the stadium as the Potters took another giant step towards securing a landmark top-half finish in the top-flight for the first time since winning promotion back in 2008.


    The Potters played out four replays to finally beat Bury in the FA Cup in 1955