Should Newcastle United clinch a European spot come May, it will be no less than they deserve.
With nine games left to play and only two points behind fifth-placed Chelsea, the Magpies have produced some fantastic performances this season to give themselves a good chance of playing football abroad once more.
A 3-0 win over Manchester United and important victories against the likes of Everton and Stoke City, as well as four points against derby rivals Sunderland, have helped to lift Newcastle into sixth place.
After recent turbulence for the club – starting with relegation in 2009, being put up for sale and having three managers in as many years – the club’s stability and progress in the Premier League over the last 24 months is a welcome relief for the fans.
And for a club that was a regular competitor in the Champions League and Uefa Cup until 2007, a return to Europe would crown what has been a magnificent season.
But key players Demba Ba and Hatem Ben Arfa, who have 20 league goals between them, will need to be on top form for the tough run-in that Alan Pardew’s men face in the next few weeks.
Games against seventh and eighth-placed Liverpool and Swansea will either consolidate Newcastle’s position or make the final few games much tenser.
And with tricky clashes against Manchester City and Everton to finish off the season, Newcastle will be hoping to pick up as many points as they can before then.
During the 10-minute spell against Chelsea where City scored two and kept their title hopes alive, they also gave their opponents a telling reminder of how far their current squad is from the golden years of the Jose Mourinho era.
The ability of City to overpower teams, both through the strength and athleticism of their midfield and forward players and through the quality they have coming off the bench, feels a lot like the Chelsea of five years ago.
Neither team, in spite of City’s early season promise, won by passing teams off the park. Chelsea were successful because of a strong spine of physical players who outran and outworked teams.
They dominated opponents for long periods in a brutally effective style at odds with the heralded Barcelona model.
On Wednesday, City were unable to produce that style of performance for the full 90 minutes, but in 10 they demonstrated how lethal they can be.
With David Silva coming off with a quarter of an hour to go they were left with a front six of Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri and Edin Dzeko that proceeded to beat up Chelsea from box to box.
Chelsea were unable to control possession for long enough to kill off the Manchester outfit, and Didier Drogba and Michael Essien, both coming off the bench, no longer have the legs to run their way out of trouble.
While the defining move of the match, Tevez’s incisive pass and Nasri’s clever movement for the winner, was a highlight of deft skill, it was City’s physicality that was the trademark of their comeback.
They pushed high, built pressure and dared Jose Bosingwa to be anything other than a liability given the ball at his feet and time on his hands.
It was his turnover that eventually led to the winner; a great move that saw Nasri run right by his marker before taking Tevez’ lay-off and finishing.
If the pass claimed the plaudits, the ease with which Nasri left a heavy-legged Frank Lampard, inexplicably playing a full 90, is arguably more of a telling statement of where both clubs are at.
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