Pieters fluke strengthens Stoke's hand
Stoke City took another step towards a first ever top-10 Premier League finish after winning 1-0 at home to Newcastle United on Saturday.
A freak goal by Erik Pieters settled the game in the 42nd minute, with the Dutch left-back's wind-assisted cross floating over visiting goalkeeper Tim Krul and into the net.
Pieters's effort enabled Stoke to return to winning ways after a 3-0 loss at Chelsea and tightened their grip on 10th place, with West Ham United and Crystal Palace now six points below them, albeit with games in hand.
Newcastle are three points above Mark Hughes's side in ninth place, but they have now lost four consecutive matches, conceding 12 goals without reply.
Krul returned for Newcastle after a knee injury and found himself lining up behind an unfamiliar three-man defence at the Britannia Stadium.
The visitors had armed themselves to counter Stoke's aerial threat, but Peter Crouch managed to elude all three centre-backs in the early stages, only to put his close-range header against the post.
Moments later it was Newcastle's chance to miss a sitter, with Dan Gosling shinning the ball over the crossbar from Shola Ameobi's knock-down.
The chances dried up momentarily, but three minutes before half-time Stoke went ahead when Pieters's mishit cross from the left drifted over the unfortunate Krul and in off the far post.
Crouch threatened to extend Stoke's lead early in the second period when he headed over from a Marko Arnautovic cross, before Ryan Shawcross had to produce a superb block to thwart Mike Williamson at the other end.
Stoke substitute Charlie Adam, sporting a protective face mask after breaking his nose, might have made the game safe for Hughes's side, but he could only curl wide when picked out by the excellent Arnautovic.
Newcastle threatened to snatch a point at the death, but Vurnon Anita could only head over from Ameobi's spiked cross.