NEWCASTLE, England (AP) — Newcastle is one win away from a return to the Champions League.
The Saudi-controlled club beat Brighton 4-1 on Thursday to strengthen its hold on third place in the Premier League.
Three more points will guarantee Newcastle a top-four finish and an automatic spot in the Champions League, a competition the club last played in 20 years ago. The team’s remaining games are at home to next-to-last Leicester and away to Chelsea.
“It is still so far away,” said Newcastle manager Eddie Howe, who hasn't wanted to talk about his team's Champions League chances.
“When it’s done," he added, "I’ll talk about it for fun if you want.”
Brighton striker Deniz Undav had an eventful game at St. James’ Park, glancing Kieran Trippier’s inswinging corner into his own net to give Newcastle the lead in the 23rd minute.
Trippier had a key role in the second goal, too, as he curled in a free kick that was nodded in by tall left back Dan Burn in the fourth minute of first-half stoppage time.
Undav made amends for his own-goal — Brighton’s league-high sixth of the season — by running onto Billy Gilmour’s defense-splitting pass and converting a finish to reduce the deficit in the 51st.
Callum Wilson ensured there was no way back with a goal on the breakaway in the 89th and he set up Bruno Guimaraes for a fourth two minutes later.
Wilson took his tally of league goals this season to 18, putting him fifth in the scoring list. It is the most by a Newcastle player in a single season since 2003-04, when Alan Shearer scored 22 goals.
The loss for sixth-place Brighton all but ended its top-four hopes, leaving Roberto De Zerbi’s team to focus on finishing in fifth or sixth place and getting into the Europa League.
Brighton was coming off a stunning 3-0 win at Arsenal on Sunday and still has three games left to play as the team catches up after a number of mid-season postponements. De Zerbi rotated his lineup, dropping Argentina midfielder Alexis Mac Allister to the bench, and expressed concerns that his squad isn't strong enough to cope with such fixture congestion.
“We have too many injuries and we have to think about this,” De Zerbi said. “We are not in the best condition to play four games in 12 days and I had to think in a different way. I think in Newcastle’s stadium, we can lose the game.”
Newcastle’s players might have already done enough to secure a place in the Champions League qualification places. Liverpool is four points back in fifth place and the only team that can stop them, but likely needs to beat Aston Villa and Southampton in its two remaining games just to stand a chance.
Midfielder Joe Willock might not be available for Newcastle's final games after hobbling off with a suspected hamstring injury in the second half. Howe is already light on numbers in central midfield with Sean Longstaff currently out too.