Player of the Year: Manchester United’s Van Persie, Tottenham’s Bale or Liverpool’s Suarez?

Conventional wisdom says that the award for Player of the Year in the Premier League will be a three-way duel between the trio of Luis Suarez, Robin van Persie and Gareth Bale.

Paul Gorst takes a look at the pros and cons for each, as the season reaches its final quarter.

Robin van Persie: Manchester United

When Manchester United lost the Premier League title on goal difference to their bitter local rivals Manchester City last season, Sir Alex Ferguson simply decided to go and buy the top striker in the league. There was no deep-rooted analytical thinking behind the transfer other than the fact that Robin van Persie guarantees goals. His strikes have gone a long way to virtually ensuring that the title will return to Old Trafford in May.

Robin van Persie

The Dutch striker has helped himself to 19 goals in the Premier League this season and none were more important than his match-winning free-kick against City in the closing stages of the 3-2 win at the Etihad Stadium back in December. The former Arsenal man has 23 goals in all competitions and has usurped Wayne Rooney as the star man at Old Trafford.

It is also easy to forget that this is Van Persie’s first year at United, after making the switch from the Emirates Stadium for around £25m last summer. It feels as though RVP has been playing for the Red Devils for seasons and the way he has adapted to playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world has been seamless.

However, Van Persie has not scored since the win over Everton back on February 10 and has now gone 10 games without a goal. Will those stats count against him when the voting is decided?

Gareth Bale: Tottenham Hotspur

Gareth Bale is undoubtedly the man of the moment in the Premier League. The flying Welshman has helped himself to 10 goals in the last nine games for Tottenham Hotspur and is the side’s leading scorer with 16 goals in the Premier League.

Gareth Bale

The former Southampton man has also lit up the league with some memorable strikes such as his last minute wonder-strike to win the game against West Ham United last month, and his goal against Norwich City, which started with a run from his own half before he stabbed it beyond goalkeeper John Ruddy at the edge of the box, in January.

Bale’s form is such that he is even being compared by some, including team-mate Michael Dawson, to La Liga superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The comparisons to the planet’s two best players are somewhat misguided certainly, but the fact that he is drawing such evaluations is proof at least, of superb form.

The 23-year-old has netted 23 times for Spurs in all competitions this campaign. However, with Bale grabbing 10 in his last nine, that means that he was marooned on a fairly respectable, if not outstanding total of 13 goals before his wonderful effort against the Canaries back on January 30.

With the voting papers being sent out in February, has Bale done enough to convince that he should be awarded the title?

Luis Suarez: Liverpool

Luis Suarez has been the outstanding player for Liverpool this season and currently tops the Premier League scoring charts with 22 goals for the Reds.

Luis Suarez

Suarez was Liverpool’s top scorer last season, but has taken his exploits up a level this term with some breathtaking performances for Brendan Rodgers’ side. Suarez’s feats are all the more impressive when you equate in the fact that he was the Reds’ only recognised striker from September to January, when the club failed to sign a replacement for the loaned-out Andy Carroll and Italian forward Fabio Borini suffered a foot injury whilst on international duty.

The Uruguayan has toiled away admirably this season and is not only a supremely talented footballer; the former Ajax man is one of the hardest working forwards in the Premier League, which is a trait that does not go unnoticed by fans at Anfield.

Suarez has found himself playing slightly out of position since the arrival of Daniel Sturridge in January, but the tactical switch has not dulled his goal threat as the striker has helped himself to 13 goals in his last 13 games for the Reds, and has 29 in all competitions this season.

Unlike Van Persie, Suarez is operating in a team that has struggled this season during Rodgers’ first campaign in the Anfield dugout, yet he has still managed to top the goalscoring charts heading into mid-March, and will probably be the first Premier League player to reach 30 goals this season.

The forward is not as revered around the rest of England as he is in Liverpool however, with admissions of diving leaving a sour taste, and the race-row with Patrice Evra in 2011 still fresh in some minds.

Suarez’s simulation has unfairly been highlighted against Gareth Bale’s, who been booked four times this season for diving compared to Suarez’s one, but will this affect his chances when the votes are cast?

Five players Tottenham Hotspur should sign this summer

Over the last couple of years Tottenham have had a key theme underpinning their transfer activity; value. They don’t shop for need necessarily, but if the value is right they will make the move. Hugo Lloris, Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson were hardly need fillers but all offered great value. The same can be said for Emmanuel Adebayor, Rafa van der Vaart and Scott Parker. They seem to have left the days where they would spend £15m on David Bentley well behind them. They have also recently moved on from their strategy of harvesting young English based players; the likes of Aaron Lennon, Gareth Bale, Michael Dawson and Kyle Walker have all made their way to the first team from that phase. They could look to go down either of those routes:

Youssuf Mulumbu – West Brom

Youssuf Mulumbu

Scout Report A powerful, hard-working defensive midfielder, Mulumbu is good at breaking up the attacks of opponents. His agility and strength means that he is both good at intercepting and strong in the tackle. He has a wonderful enthusiasm for work and his selfless approach rubs off on his team-mates. He is tidy on the ball and rarely makes mistakes.

Where does he fit? Andre Villas-Boas has tended to deploy two deep midfielders to allow Bale a free license. Sandro is injury plagued and Scott Parker hasn’t reached the levels of a couple of seasons ago. Mulumbu is 26, experienced in the Premier League and can play straight away. He would be a valuable piece in the midfield.

How much? West Brom do their business efficiently so a bid of £6-7m would represent a good profit for them. It fits nicely in Spurs’ value range too. His contract expires in 2014 so it’s a similar situation to Dempsey.

Radja Nainggolan – Cagliari

Radja Nainggolan

Scout Report Nainggolan is a 24 year old Belgian midfield dynamo. A genuine all rounder, he is tough, energetic and composed on the ball. Having dropped deeper in to the midfield than he played in his youth, he is better using his aggression in his new deeper position. He is all action, gets in your face, takes the ball off you and then picks out a quality pass. Yet another Belgian superstar in the making.

Where does he fit? Spurs don’t really have anyone like him at the moment. He offers a bit more on the ball than Sandro and Parker and with some seasoning and experience could become a dominant presence.

How much? Cagliari are not in a strong enough financial position to resist good offers. Something like £12m would do it, which for a 24 year old potential superstar is very good value. His contract also expires in 2014 so the £12m is a discount on his true value. Spurs should pounce on him whilst they can.

Christian Eriksen – Ajax

Christian Eriksen

Scout Report A sublimely talented young man, Eriksen has been compared to no lesser than his idol Michael Laudrup. Possessing of all the finest attacking qualities, Eriksen is technically supreme. He has rapid feet and can receive and move the ball before the defender gets near him. He pops up with his share of goals and provides a supply line of opportunities to his strikers. He gets himself in to areas that are very difficult to defend. You can keep him quiet for 88 minutes and then he will do something magical to win a game. He’s like watching a Danish Andres Iniesta.

Where does he fit? Spurs have had some problems unlocking defences at times when their A game breaks down over the last couple of years. If Bale gets shut down they can look a bit listless. They have added Lewis Holtby to try and provide that but brining in Eriksen too would give them an amazing creative hub. If they can find a striker to take all the chances Eriksen, Holtby and Bale create they could work themselves towards being a serious Premier League dark horse.

How much? Another whose contract expires in 2014, reducing his true value, Eriksen could probably be acquired for around £15m which could prove to a monster snip. It’s about what they laid out to get Luka Modric, who was at a similar stage of his career.

Christian Benteke – Aston Villa

Christian Benteke

Scout Report Benteke is an absolute powerhouse of a young striker. That he has made such a dramatic impact playing in such an awful Aston Villa side is testament to his potential. He has pace, power and goals to offer. Dominant in the air and in the hold-up phase, he is a worthy target man and can only get better at just 22.

Where does he fit? Spurs need a striker. Adebayor has looked ineffective and Defoe blows too hot and cold for a title challenge. Benteke would give Spurs a completely different option, able to nod home crosses and race on to the tight passes that the creative players are able to feed him with. He could easily score 20+ goals with such good players around him considering what he has done at Villa.

How much? This would depend completely on whether or not Villa get relegated. If they do then he could probably be had for around £7m, but if they stay up they are in such dire financial straits that surely a bid in the £13m range would sorely tempt them to sell. Spurs could comfortably afford that if they make the Champions League.

Jackson Martinez – FC Porto

Jackson Martínez

Scout Report Martinez is the latest striker to attend the Porto finishing school and emerge with his reputation rapidly enhanced. He has already scored 23 goals in Portugal this season, which compares favourably with alumni Radamel Falcao and Hulk. He has pace and inventiveness to match his finishing abilities. When he gets in to a groove he can be impossible to stop.

Where does he fit? Tottenham love pace in attack and they need someone to take chances more ruthlessly. AVB could tell him to roam around the defensive line waiting to be put through on goal and not worry about involving himself in general play. The sight of Martinez and Bale hurtling at defences together would terrify opposition managers.

How much? Porto are a hard club to buy from so this probably wouldn’t be their priority. It depends if they sell anyone else, which would drive the price up, but if Spurs move quickly he could be gotten for £12-15m.

Tottenham thriving as AVB gets the best from Gareth Bale

Andre Villas-Boas has taken a lot of criticism whilst he has been in England, mostly as a result of his ill-fated spell as John Terry’s assistant at Chelsea. However, his work at Tottenham is starting to regain him the respect that he garnered whilst sweeping all before him during his one season at Porto.

One of the views being put about is that he is quite lucky to have Gareth Bale in the form of his life, but how about the idea that it is because of AVB’s teaching that Bale is achieving the levels that he is? Bale’s explosion in goalscoring form has coincided with AVB moving him in to a central role. In reality he has a roaming license, popping up all over the pitch. He is top of every dribbling statistic in the major five European leagues and he now has the freedom to do that from all over the field. The Wales international has become particularly dangerous from deep central areas, powering straight at defences; see his goals away at Norwich, West Brom and the first at West Ham. His finishing has always been quite good, but out on the wing he had less chance to demonstrate it.

Gareth Bale hugs manager Andre Villas-Boas

AVB isn’t actually the first to deploy Bale in the middle. Harry Redknapp played him in behind the striker a couple of times last season, including a two-goal plunder away at Norwich, but he didn’t stick to it. This was partly because he liked Rafael Van der Vaart in there, but mainly because he liked the two wide pacey wingers to put crosses in to the box.

AVB comes from a different tactical school to Redknapp. He deploys his best player in his best position and figures the rest out from there. Even if it means playing him in a different part of the pitch to where he might be expected to play. He did the same at Porto with Radamel Falcao. He told him to stay central and let the chances come his way, particularly after a barren start to the season.

Radamel Falcao

In his first season in Portugal Falcao had scored 25 goals in the league but just four in Europe. During Villas-Boas’ only season at the club he scored 16 more domestic goals, in only 22 games, but what made his name were the 17 he scored on Porto’s run to victory in the Europa League. When Villas-Boas arrived he made noises that he wouldn’t make any special adjustments to fit around Falcao, but there were subtle changes. He tweaked the Porto system meaning Falcao won the prized berth in the middle of the front three, and this showed the Colombian that he was Villas-Boas’ main man.

The same thing is happening with Bale. AVB is nothing if not a relentless worker and something of a football junkie. He meticulously plans his training sessions and his tactical game plans but at the beginning of the season he was struggling to get the best from Bale. It has been a slow transition but he has allowed the Welshman more and more license to get himself in to areas that the opposition don’t want to him to be. Where do they least want Bale? Running straight at them through the middle of the pitch. Where do teams least want to see Falcao? Lingering around in the box waiting to pounce on anything that comes his way.

These meticulously planned training sessions are a big factor in helping these players attain their maximum potential. Bale is the type of player who would spend all day on the training ground if he could, and having an innovative and thinking coach like AVB who is able to provide him with different challenges and stimulus every day is something that he buys in to. His work ethic has been compared to Cristiano Ronaldo and the fact that he has such a good coach and teacher is what is taking him on to another level.

After his spectacular season at Porto, Falcao headed to Atletico Madrid for £35 million, full of confidence and with the reputation as one of Europe’s hottest strikers. He has only continued on from there and is now considered amongst the top three pure strikers in the world. Tottenham fans will be hoping that the AVB affect won’t end with Bale, but it is clear that as a coach and teacher Villas-Boas knows how to take very good players and make them some of the best in the world.

Five conclusions from Tottenham’s north London derby win over Arsenal

Tottenham edged out north London rivals Arsenal 2-1 in a crunch derby clash on Sunday at White Hart Lane, with two quick-fire goals in the first-half proving enough to claim all three points. The result moves Spurs back up to third place ahead of Chelsea, and leaves the Gunners five points adrift of the Champions League qualification places.

Aaron Lennon scores for Tottenham against Arsenal

Ninety Minutes Online works in partnership with FourFourTwo, and has come up with five main conclusions from the game here

Tottenham must be glad they kept hold of Michael Dawson

Tottenham’s 2-1 win over Arsenal on Sunday sees them move back into third position in the Premier League and gives the side a boost going into the business end of the season. Despite the much-applauded attacking exploits of the White Hart Lane side this term, their dogged defensive efforts in their derby win must be recognised. Jan Vertonghen stood out with a masterful and assured performance at the heart of the Spurs rearguard, however captain Michael Dawson epitomised the side’s will to win in the encounter.

The England international has been a growing presence in a Tottenham team that have challenged for top-four inclusion over the last number of years, however with Andre Villas-Boas’ appointment in the summer Dawson’s future was unclear. With the Portuguese coach stating that he wanted only four central defenders on the books, it was Dawson who was deemed surplus to requirements, to the raised eyebrows of some of the White Hart Lane faithful.

Michael Dawson

A move to London neighbours QPR in the summer fell through, and Dawson remained at Spurs. Over the course of the season, partly due to injury to Younes Kaboul and a dip in form from William Gallas, he has found himself back in the side. Dawson must receive plaudits for doing the work on the training ground to get back in contention, while Villas-Boas must also be admired for revising his initial negative opinion of the player.

Gareth Bale has been the star of the show in Spurs’ excellent run of form recently, but Dawson, donning the captain’s armband once more, has added steel and heart in the Tottenham defence. He may admittedly lack the poise of Vertonghen or the speed of Kaboul, but countless other positive qualities were on show in the win over Arsenal at the weekend.

Dawson positional play makes up for a lack of pace, and he was in the right place at the right time to make vital interceptions and clearance against the Gunners. His anger at Arsenal’s failure to put the ball out of play whilst Emmanuel Adebayor was injured showed a real passion for the cause, while his jubilant celebration after the match exemplified his sheer will-to-win.

The Englishman’s inclusion also adds a dominant figure at the heart of the side, with his communication, organisation and team-work outstanding. Along with Scott Parker, Spurs had the leaders on the pitch that Arsenal lack in the derby.

Even when Kaboul returns from injury, Villas-Boas now must realise that his first-choice pairing of Dawson and Vertonghen must remain. The pair were a rock at the heart of Spurs defence in the win over Arsenal, and Dawson’s influence critical in a vitally important win.

Tottenham show mental toughness in win over Arsenal

Tottenham edged a frenetic north London derby 2-1 on Sunday, with two goals in as many first-half minutes ensuring victory for the home side over Arsenal. Despite a few nervy moments for the White Hart Lane faithful, Spurs showed the required determination and resolve to see out a game that moves them back into pole position for a Champions League qualification berth.

Tottenham’s attacking prowess and technical improvement under Andre Villas-Boas has been well publicised this season, with Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon typifying the team’s ability to strike in a split second with their well-worked goals against Arsenal. However, the most impressive thing to take from the Lilywhites’ victory over their rivals is the manner of their defensive rearguard, and mental toughness to avoid a capitulation that Spurs fans have been accustomed to in the past.

After an even first 30 minutes of the game Spurs took their chances well to go into the lead, and made the most of lax Arsenal defending. However, despite going into the break two goals to the good, the last two times these teams have faced up Spurs have found themselves in this position of power and somehow been thumped 5-2.

Andre Villas-Boas

At the half-time break Villas-Boas will have implored his side not to concede an early goal in the second half, however when Per Mertesacker’s header found the back of the Spurs net after 51 minutes, admittedly via a deflection from Gareth Bale, the game was on a knife-edge. Over the next five minutes Spurs were under the cosh from a rejuvenated Arsenal, and in the past they may well have lost confidence and shipped at least another goal. However this time round dedicated defending and a mental toughness got them through a sticky period, and allowed them to go on to win the game.

Many a Spurs fan will have utter the words ‘here we go again’ when Mertesacker’s goal crept past Hugo Lloris, but it was actually Tottenham that created the best chances to score after this, with Bale, Jermain Defoe and in particular Gylfi Sigurdsson wasteful in front of goal.

The defensive performance of Tottenham’s rearguard was admirable, with captain Michael Dawson and man of the match Jan Vertonghen a rock for the side, but the whole team showed the necessary dedication and never-say-die attitude to win a game that in previous seasons they would have thrown away.

As Villas-Boas says a place in the top four is not yet secured, and there is not yet a shifting in the dominant force in north London. However, a gutsy and victorious performance puts Spurs one step closer to qualifying for Europe’s top competition whilst simultaneously damaging the momentum of their most bitter rivals.

Tottenham vs Arsenal: Winner takes all?

The second north London derby of the season will be played at White Hart Lane on Sunday, with everything to play for between Tottenham and Arsenal. The pair are locked in a battle with Chelsea, Everton and maybe even Liverpool in the race for a top-four finish. With the race for Champions League qualification as tight as ever, would a win for one of the sides effectively end the other’s chances?

If Tottenham win

Tottenham celebrate Kyle Walker's goal against Arsenal

Tottenham are third in the table ahead of the weekend’s game and certainly the form team of the two. With Gareth Bale in stunning form and Andre Villas-Boas seemingly getting the best out of his talented squad, Spurs look more than likely to get a place in the top four this season.

That said, Spurs were in a similar position this time last season, with the media even hailed the side as potential title challengers. A humbling 5-2 defeat at the Emirates in February ended all that, with Harry Redknapp’s side going on a spiral of bad form that cost them a place at Europe’s top table.

Even earlier this season Spurs went into the reverse fixture at the Emirates as the side on top, but a mental block overcame them and another 5-2 defeat was the result. If Tottenham are to win this game they have got to believe in themselves, take the game to their opponents and realise that they are just as good, and better, than Arsenal.

If Spurs were to win the game it would open up a seven-point gap between the sides, with ten games remaining. If Chelsea beat West Brom on Saturday, as you might assume they will, the Gunners would suddenly be five points adrift of fourth and have a lot of work to do.

If Arsenal win

Arsenal celebrate in their 5-2 victory over Tottenham

Much has been made of Arsenal’s downturn in form; inconsistency throughout 2012-13 was compounded in the week from hell with home defeats to Blackburn in the FA Cup and Bayern Munich in the Champions League recently. However, a match-up against their old rivals, who they have predominantly had the better of in recent times, could be the answer to get them back on track.

Arsene Wenger will respect the quality of the Spurs side, but if the visitors can record a victory it will be a real bonus for the players and fans. Suddenly the Gunners have the chance of moving into the top four, and would only be one point behind Spurs. With a strong end of season run assuring a top-four place last season, victory at White Hart Lane could be the catalyst for a similar finale to this campaign.

Spurs on the other hand, despite all their talent and ability, always seem to have a vulnerability about them mentally. A defeat to Arsenal on Sunday would be hard to take, and teams of old may well have crumbled for the remainder of the season. If the unthinkable does happen for Tottenham, it will be a real measure of how far they have come to finish the campaign strongly.

In a derby match the game could go either way, and the atmosphere is sure to be electric at the weekend. A defeat for either side would not necessary be the end of their Champions League ambitions, but a win for either would be a real springboard towards a top-four finish.

Gareth Bale can become a Tottenham legend – if he stays

Much has been made of Gareth Bale’s recent form for Tottenham, both in the Premier League and the Europa League, and rightly so. The Welsh attacker has consistently dazzled the White Hart Lane faithful over the last 24 months, and tortured defenders up and down the land.

With Bale’s transformation from a weedy winger into a physically dominant attacker, and with an eye for goal to boot, Spurs have one of the top players in the Premier League in their repertoire. Many in the British press are comparing Bale to Cristiano Ronaldo; high praise indeed.

At the end of last season, once Champions League football had not been guaranteed, Spurs fans knew in their heart of hearts that key playmaker Luka Modric would leave the club. Despite the loss of Modric as a player, the likes of Mousa Dembele have entered the club and minimised the loss of the Croat midfielder. However, should Bale leave White Hart Lane in the summer, there would be no quick fix to replace him.

Gareth Bale

At 23 years old, Bale literally has the world at his feet, and a move to Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona or another of Europe’s top clubs would come as no surprise given his substantial abilities. However, with Spurs once more teetering on the edge of fourth place, should the north Londoners secure a place in next term’s Champions League, Bale will have the motivation to stay.

Whilst Modric made it clear of his intentions to abandon ship, no such noises have come from the Bale camp. With the form he is in currently, Bale could well almost single-handedly lead his side to a top-four finish and as such would be the catalyst for a new era for the club.

In the longer term it is clear to see that Tottenham have ambitions of playing in Europe’s top club competition year-in, year-out. Keeping Bale and continuing to build a team that can compete around him could not only prove to a winning formula, but also project the player to legend status amongst Tottenham’s fans.

Tottenham must play their best team against Lyon in Europa League

Tottenham are back in European action tonight, and face a tough game against Champions League evictees Olympique Lyonnais. With the first game at home at White Hart Lane, the English side have a great chance to take the tie by the scruf of the neck before travelling to the Stade de Gerland. An added bonus for the north London side is that their elimination from the FA Cup at the hands of Leeds means that there is no game for Spurs this weekend.

Spurs’ main priority must be a top-four finish in the Premier League and hence a place in next season’s Champions League hat, however continued progression in the second-tier Europa League is seen by many as a blight on their domestic ambitions. Andre Villas-Boas is a known advocate of the Europa League after winning the competition as Porto boss, and has pledged from the start to try to progress in the tournament. Despite this, the inclination to leave key players such as Gareth Bale on the sidelines as to save them for Premier League fixture still exists.

However, with no Premier League fixtures this week due to the FA Cup, Villas-Boas’ men have a full week off before facing Lyon again in France. Instead of fielding a team that is close to its best, the Portuguese trainer would be best advised to start with all the club’s best players, and try to lay a marker in the ground.

Gareth Bale

Lyon are no soft touch and are an experienced and seasoned European campaigner, despite not being at the powers of their Ligue 1 dominant selves in the 2000’s. The side has quality without, and the visitors will not sit back and soak up pressure but rather look to win the game in England and seal progression next week. Spurs must watch Bafetimbi Gomis carefully; the mobile striker has a goal every other game this season to date. Despite this, Lyon have lost their last two games in France, with a 3-1 reverse against Lille last time out.

Spurs, bouyed on by good recent form, and fielding a strong starting line-up should expect to win the game; one which would be common place should they qualify for the Champions League next term.

Tottenham vs Newcastle: No repeat of last season’s 5-0 thrashing

Tottenham host Newcastle in the Premier League’s early kick-off on Saturday, and the form guide would suggest that the home side should continue their recent strong form. Spurs are unbeaten in nine Premier League games, and have only lost twice at White Hart Lane in 12 games this season. Newcastle on the other hand have been poor on the road, winning only one of their 12 games away from St James Park in 2012/13.

Spurs will hope that Emmanuel Adebayor will be back in consideration to play a part in the fixture, after Togo’s elimination from the African Cup of Nations. Jermain Defoe is ruled out through injury, and the hosts will rely on in-form attacker Gareth Bale to provide the offensive impetus, alongside Clint Dempsey and potentially January signing Lewis Holtby.

Tottenham vs Newcastle

Newcastle have seen a drastic dip in form since their fifth-placed finish last season, with Alan Pardew’s men in 15th place ahead of kick-off. The Geordies have won their last two games however; firstly a win against lowly Aston Villa ended their hoodoo away from home, and a 3-2 victory over Chelsea last time out moved them away from the relegation places.

Tottenham have the chance to move up to third placed temporarily with Chelsea playing later in the day, and another three points to their tally will be necessary to ward off Everton, Liverpool and Arsenal in the hunt for Champions League football.

Pardew has spent in the January transfer window, bringing in a handful of players from France; the quickness with which the newcomers adapt to the English game and to their new Tyneside surrounds could determine the remainder of the campaign for Newcastle. Moussa Sissoko proved that he may be the shot in the arm that the Toon need with two well-taken goals against Chelsea last Saturday.

Spurs won the corresponding fixture 5-0 last season at White Hart Lane, however one would assume that the game will be a lot closer this time round. Both teams need points; an unbeaten ten-match run would suggest Champions League qualification form for Spurs, whilst a second-consecutive away win could move Newcastle within touching distance of the top half.

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