Newcastle United stepped up their claims for a European spot after an inspired first-half display from Hatem Ben Arfa helped seal a 3-1 victory over West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns.
Ben Arfa scored once himself and set up two more goals for Papiss Cisse during an opening 45 minutes dominated by Alan Pardew's side. Albion could only manage a solitary second-half reply from substitute Shane Long as Newcastle moved level on points with fifth-placed Chelsea and gained revenge for the 3-2 home defeat by Albion earlier in the season.
The Magpies have also opened up an eight-point gap over seventh-placed Liverpool, but suffered a worrying moment ten minutes from time when Cisse was carried off on a stretcher with an apparent leg injury.
Newcastle dominated the first half and gave the home side a lesson in expert counter-attacking and clinical finishing. Ben Arfa caused constant problems with his runs and probing passes, while Cisse has now netted five times in six games for his new club.
Albion seldom fired on all cylinders and looked like a side already virtually assured of Premier League survival. They improved after the break, but have collected just one point from their last three games.
Newcastle were soon into their stride and Demba Ba forced Baggies goalkeeper Ben Foster to turn his downward volley over the bar before Cisse put them ahead after six minutes. Ben Arfa supplied the telling low ball across the six-yard box and Cisse was left with a simple task to side-foot home.
Newcastle were seeing plenty of the ball and Ben Arfa doubled their lead after 12 minutes in a lightning counter-attack. Cisse supplied the pass, but Ben Arfa still had plenty of work to do as he cut in from the left and beat Foster with a fierce drive into the far corner.
Albion tried to retaliate and James Morrison drilled a half-volley wide after being teed up by Keith Andrews. Marc-Antoine Fortune threatened for the first time when he met a cross from Liam Ridgewell, but his header was a couple of yards wide of the mark.
Cisse strikes again
Peter Odemwingie had the ball in the net after 32 minutes, but Fortune had strayed marginally offside. Then two minutes later Cisse struck again after another swift counter-attack by the visitors. Ba back-heeled the ball into the path of the overlapping Ben Arfa and his cross picked out Cisse, who made no mistake with a left-footed finish.
Albion needed to strike quickly to have any hope of rescuing the game and Morrison sliced his shot wide when well placed after Youssouf Mulumbu had created the opening. Michael Williamson then deflected a fierce drive from Mulumbu over his own crossbar before Cisse was denied his hat-trick by the alert Foster after Yohan Cabaye's deflected pass had sent him clear.
After 52 minutes a mix-up between Williamson and goalkeeper Tim Krul allowed Long to nip in and turn the ball into an empty net. Foster then produced an excellent save to turn aside a low shot from Ben Arfa after a powerful run before Williamson became the first player to be booked after an aerial challenge on Long.
Albion were looking more dangerous and Ridgewell sliced a shot wide when well placed. The home side, having already used their three substitutes, ended the game with ten men when Morrison hobbled off after a challenge with Ba with ten minutes remaining.