Newcastle United secured an emphatic 4-1 home win over Brighton & Hove Albion to take a huge step towards a fourth-place finish in the Premier League on Thursday.
An own goal from Deniz Ondev and a Dan Byrne header before half-time put Newcastle third in command.
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But sixth-placed Brighton, which itself is seeking to qualify for Europe for the first time, fell behind with a goal by Ondaf.
There was plenty of nerves around St James’ Park as Newcastle squandered chances and Brighton threatened to equalise, but late goals from Callum Wilson and Bruno Guimaraes sparked a celebratory atmosphere inside the stadium.
Newcastle’s players benefited from applause after the final whistle and while a top-four finish is not guaranteed, they only need one win in their last two matches.
Coach Eddie Howe’s team has 69 points, while fourth-placed Manchester United has 66 points, with three matches remaining. Liverpool, who have only two matches left, have 65.
A home win against relegation-threatened Leicester City on Monday will secure Newcastle football in the Champions League for the first time in two decades.
“We were fantastic tonight,” Howe told Sky Sports. “That first period was our best. I thought we were relentless. It’s very difficult to maintain that throughout the game.
“The fans helped us cross the line. The third goal was decisive. 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 is, they are fighting on the other end of the table.”
With Newcastle picking up just one point from their last two matches, and with Brighton rebounding in a 3-0 win over Arsenal, the game looked like a tough hurdle for the hosts.
But they dominated the opening exchanges and took the lead after 22 minutes when Kieran Trippier’s corner kick hit Ondav’s head and into his own net.
Newcastle’s second goal came from a more unlikely source as former Brighton defender Byrne rose to power in delivering another Trippier in first-half stoppage time.
Brighton goalkeeper Jason Steele maintained his team shortly after the break with a reflex to deny Miguel Almiron and seconds later the guests cut the deficit in half as Billy Gilmour slashed the Newcastle defense and UNdev skipped Nick Pope.
Wilson took his league tally for the season to 18 in the last minute after Almiron sent him into the running and Guimarães fired home from close range in stoppage time.
Brighton needs two wins from its last three games to guarantee its place in Europe next season, although one of those matches will be against the Manchester City team.