Newcastle United Stars Align, but Must Treat It as a Loss Before Wigan Clash

Stephen GillamContributor IIIApril 21, 2012

Why aye, Cabaye. Yohan Cabaye probably just checked his live scores app.
Why aye, Cabaye. Yohan Cabaye probably just checked his live scores app.Stu Forster/Getty Images

The last 24 hours have been a dream of Inception-like proportions for Newcastle United fans.

First Chelsea and Arsenal played out a 0-0 draw, in which Theo Walcott sustained a season-ending hamstring injury.

The result means Chelsea now slip further from the top four with a congested schedule beginning to take its toll and likely to get worse; while Arsenal fans are hardly comfortable with their hold on third place themselves.

Then there was the small matter of Tottenham "Tottanic" Hotspur going down 1-0 to Queens Park Rangers thanks to an Adel Taraabt goal.

Sunderland had to settle for a 0-0 draw with Relegation Station locals Aston Villa for those who still enjoy watching the Mackems suffer.

The most important result of the night, however, was Newcastle's own 3-0 victory over Stoke City, a result which actually matches up with the win over Manchester United as the biggest of the season.

Yohan Cabaye put the Magpies in front in the 14th minute, converting Papiss Cisse's initial header off the crossbar. The French-Senagalese duo combined again to put the Toon two up in the 18th, and Cabaye put the game out of reach in the 57th.

Remarkably enough, no one got hurt, and better yet the Magpies didn't show signs of collapsing after taking a 2-0 lead into halftime.

See you next year boys! Both of you.
See you next year boys! Both of you.Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Lastly, Middlesbrough kept their promotion chances alive with a 2-1 win over Southampton. For people like me, this is wonderful news, but that's for another article (watch this space!).

That collection of results now puts Newcastle United into fourth place, three points clear of Tottenham and almost guaranteeing them European football next season, but also making the dream of a Champions League return a very real prospect.

Looking ahead, the team doesn't exactly have a walk in the (St James') park as far as runs home go.

Next week they hit up Wigan (and probably a Warriors game while they're there. When in Rome and all), before heading to Stamford Bridge and UCL-contending rivals Chelsea.

After a three-day turnaround they cap off their home fixtures against Manchester City before finishing away at Everton.

Given the three other fixtures, anything less than three points at Wigan would be considered a serious failure.

Tottenham Hotspur still have a game in hand, Chelsea's draw with Arsenal came from a fairly weak squad with the Champions League semis versus Barcelona clearly in mind (they obviously intend to enjoy it while it lasts), and the Gunners should still pick up at least six points from their last three games.

Here's a picture of Wigan's last trip to Anfield. Because laughing at Liverpool never gets old.
Here's a picture of Wigan's last trip to Anfield. Because laughing at Liverpool never gets old.Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

On paper, relegation-battling Wigan should be a comfortable victory. Newcastle's away record (seven wins, three draws, six losses) looks pretty solid against Wigan's ledger at home (three wins, seven draws, seven losses).

The last time Newcastle won six games in a row, they walked away with silverware. Confidence is at a supreme high right now, and the prize is just in sight.

Wigan are shattered after gargantuan efforts against Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United, and it finally showed in Saturday's 2-1 loss to Fulham at Craven Cottage.

But if Newcastle haven't learned the grim lessons from those big clubs and Liverpool, they don't deserve to fly the English flag next season.

The worst thing they can possibly do is take their most recent contest for granted. When that happens, scoreboard anxiety kicks in—and that's where teams get unsettled and start making mistakes potentially worth about £20 million.

Wigan will come out with a clinical defensive display and everything to play for. They've shown they can match up with the big boys when they have to, and at this stage of the season they still most certainly have to.

For Newcastle, the result against Stoke must be treated as though it were a loss. Forget the table, coming back hard next week is the only thing that matters.

Fortunately, focus hasn't really been an issue this season. The Magpies have only had consecutive losses once this season (to Chelsea and then Norwich).

If both teams walk out onto the Dome of Wigan Stadium and play their best football, Newcastle should leave as winners.

But this game coming up is a massive banana skin for them, and you can't afford to drop points before you run the gauntlet.