toon gloom

LONDON - Newcastle became the biggest Premier League casualties since Leeds dropped out of the top flight five years ago after a final-day defeat at Aston Villa condemned Alan Shearer's side to relegation yesterday.

LONDON - Newcastle became the biggest Premier League casualties since Leeds dropped out of the top flight five years ago after a final-day defeat at Aston Villa condemned Alan Shearer's side to relegation yesterday.

The Magpies will be joined in the Championship next season by local rivals Middlesbrough, whose last chance of beating the drop disappeared with a 2-1 defeat at West Ham.

Newcastle and Boro's misery ensured huge relief for both Sunderland and Hull, who also lost their final matches but managed to cling on to their top-flight status thanks to the failure of their rivals to snatch the lifeline on offer to them.

Hull's 1-0 defeat by a Manchester United side missing all their big names ahead of this week's Champions League final meant that a draw would have been enough for Newcastle to stay up.

But that never looked on the cards and Villa, who finish the season in sixth place, fully deserved the three points, though they were sealed in fortunate fashion by a Gareth Barry shot that was deflected past Steve Harper by Damien Duff.

Darron Gibson demonstrated the rich resources Alex Ferguson has at his disposal with a stunning strike to give Manchester United their win at Hull and ensure the champions finished the campaign with a four-point advantage over second-placed Liverpool.

Another youngster, Junior Stanislas, sealed West Ham's win over Middlesbrough after Gary O'Neill had cancelled out Carlton Cole's first-half strike.

Nicolas Anelka ensured he would finish the season as the Premier League's top scorer with his 19th league strike in Chelsea's 3-2 win at Sunderland.

Kieron Richardson equalised six minutes later but Sunderland were left dependent on results elsewhere for their safety after Salomon Kalou and Ashley Cole extended the visitors' lead. Kenwyne Jones claimed a late consolation effort for Sunderland.

Everton secured 5th place with a 2-0 win at Fulham courtesy of a Leon Osman double.

The defeat could have cost Fulham a place in Europe but Tottenham's 3-1 loss at Liverpool meant that Roy Hodgson's side remained in seventh place - the club's highest Premier League finish - and will play in the Europa League next season.

Fernando Torres's 50th goal for Liverpool and an Alan Hutton own goal put the Reds in control and though former Reds striker Robbie Keane marked his return to Anfield with a goal, Yossi Benayoun made sure of the points.

Arsenal finished a frustrating season on a high with a 4-1 win over Stoke, exacting revenge for a bruising defeat at the Britannia Stadium in December.

The Gunners were 3-0 up inside 20 minutes thanks to a James Beattie own goal, Robin van Persie penalty and an Abou Diaby header. Ricardo Fuller pulled one back from the spot but van Persie claimed his second before half time.

West Brom, who had already been relegated, finished bottom of the table after a goalless draw at Blackburn while Manchester City rounded off their campaign with a 1-0 win over Bolton that was sealed by Felipe Caicedo's early strike.

City finished the season in 10th place, one position above Wigan. - Sapa-AFP

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