Stoke's Erik Pieters celebrates after scoring against Newcastle United during their English Premier League soccer match at the Britannia Stadium, Stoke, England, Saturday, April 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

Stoke City 1-0 Newcastle United: Four games without a goal for Newcastle (video)

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With Newcastle having failed to score in their last three outings, and missing Loïc Rémy due to injury, it never looked as though this match would be a replay of the 5-1 Magpies win back on Boxing Day. Sure enough, what we got was a rather scrappy affair, with few shots on target and Stoke managing to eek out all three points.

The Potters really should have scored by the time ten minutes were out. Marko Arnautović sent in a pin-point cross from the left, falling perfectly for Peter Crouch, about five yards out. But Crouch was able to do nothing more than bash his header against the base of the post.

Two minutes later, Newcastle also wasted a fantastic chance. Dan Gosling slipped into space to meet a ball from Shola Ameobi, but, despite being just six yards out, the midfield managed to place his shot over the bar.

The game seemed destined to revolve around missed chances. Ameobi’s own effort, a shot from distance, went wide. Peter Odemwingie had a good chance on a ball from Arnautović, but could do nothing with it.

So it seemed rather apt that the opening goal seemed to be more luck than skill. Stoke fans might classify it as a wonder-goal, but in fact, Erik Pieters overhit his cross. The ball floated down over Tim Krul, hit the far post and bounced into the back of the net.

Newcastle had a chance to respond before the half was out, but Asmir Begović got down to save Cheick Tioté’s effort from distance.

The visitors did their best to find an equalizer in the second half, but everything they conjured up was rather tame. Papiss Cissé started out the second half with a wasted, high effort from a pass from Mike Williamson. His 64th minute shot was much more threatening, but Steven N’Zonzi was there with a block.

Stoke made attempts to double their advantage by hitting Newcastle on the break, but they were only able to come close to a second. Hatem Ben Arfa, on for Dan Gosling just moments before, couldn’t control the ball and Stoke were able to break, with Charlie Adam putting his shot wide. A few minutes later, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, on for Steven Taylor, was called into action to ensure a great cross from Geoff Cameron was put out of danger.

LINEUPS

Stoke City:Begovic; Cameron, Shawcross, Wilson, Pieters; Ireland (Adam 66), Nzonzi, Whelan, Arnautovic; Odemwingie (Walters 87); Crouch

Goals: Pieters 42′

Newcastle United: Krul; S Taylor (Yanga-Mbiwa 61), Williamson, Coloccini; Anita, Gosling (Ben Arfa 73), Tiote, Gouffran, Dummett; Sh Ameobi, Cisse (Armstrong 73)

Watch Live: Guatemala vs. T&T; Canada vs. Guyana in Olympic qualifying

Canadian players wave to fans after a 2-1 loss to England in a quarterfinal of the Women's World Cup soccer tournament, Saturday, June 27, 2015, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP
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Group B is set to kick off Thursday night at the 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship, as Canada, third-place finishers at the 2012 Olympics, begin their quest to qualify for this summer’s games in Rio de Janeiro.

Guyana versus Trinidad and Tobago is up first (6 p.m. ET) from BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Tex, followed by the Canadians, who will take on Guyana (8:30 p.m. ET) in the nightcap.

[ WATCH LIVE: Guatemala vs. T&T live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

[ WATCH LIVE: Canada vs. Guyana live on line on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

The U.S. women’s national began its Olympic qualifying campaign in impressive fashion on Wednesday with a 5-0 victory over Costa Rica, while Mexico jumped to the top of Group A with a 6-0 victory over Puerto Rico.

Sunderland terminate Adam Johnson’s contract after guilty pleas in sex case

Sunderland winger Adam Johnson arrives at Bradford Crown Court, England, Wednesday Feb. 10, 2016. Johnson has pleaded guilty in court to one count of sexual activity with a child and another of grooming. The 28-year-old Johnson, who has made 12 appearances for England, denies two charges of sexual activity with a girl under the age of 16. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP) UNITED KINGDOM OUT NO SALES NO ARCHIVE
Peter Byrne/PA via AP
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SUNDERLAND, England (AP) Sunderland has fired winger Adam Johnson after he pleaded guilty to grooming and sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl at the start of his trial.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Johnson, who has played 12 times for England, continues to deny two further counts of sexual activity with a child.

Sunderland dismissed Johnson ahead of his trial resuming on Friday at Bradford Crown Court.

[ MORE: Top 5 Premier League storylines — Sunday’s top-four battle royal ]

In a statement, Sunderland announced Thursday that “in light of Adam Johnson’s guilty pleas, the club has today terminated his contract with immediate effect.”

The former Manchester City player joined Sunderland in 2012 for 10 million pounds (now about $14.5 million).

Week 26: Top 5 Premier League storylines — Top-four battle royal

Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane, right, lifts the ball over Leicester City’s goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel but fails to score during their English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City at the White Hart Lane stadium in London Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
AP Photo/Alastair Grant
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Whoever says, “No one could have ever predicted Leicester City would be top of the league on Valentine’s Day,” is wrong.

One group of Premier League savants knew: the PL schedule makers, which is why this Sunday shall henceforth be known as “Super Duper Mega Uber Sunday,” as it’s 3rd versus 1st, and 4th versus 2nd.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Top-four battle royal, part 1

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — Sunday, 7 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

Will Arsenal “Arsenal it up?” Will Leicester finally fall apart and blow the PL title, as they were supposed to have done weeks months ago? The battle of narratives in so strong in this one. Are Leicester really title favorites? Upon further review, they are. No PL team has won more points away from home this season than Leicester (28). Is another giant-slaying on the cards for the Foxes? At this point, who would be crazy enough to doubt them?

[ MORE: PL schedule, stream links ]

Top-four battle royal, part 2

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — Sunday, 11:15 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

The last time Tottenham were ahead of Man City this late in the season will have to have been the final day of the 2009-10 season, when Spurs qualified for the UEFA Champions League just ahead of City. Heading into Sunday, a single point is all that separates the sides. When they met earlier this season, Spurs hammered City, to the tune of 4-1. The importance of three points speaks for itself, as either side could surge into a commanding place in the title race with a victory on Sunday.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings | Schedule | Stats ]

Man United’s top-four hopes hanging by a thread

Sunderland vs. Manchester United — Saturday, 6:45 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

As the PL’s top-four teams have kept winning in recent weeks, so too have Man United, to an extent. With that, the Red Devils are no closer to Champions League qualification today than they were three weeks ago before their mini-run of 11 points from six games. Only Aston Villa (10), who are rock bottom of the league, have won fewer points at home this season than Sunderland (12). United are currently six points back of 4th, so with at least two of the four sides ahead of them guaranteed to drop points on Sunday, it’s a big, big weekend for United to take of their own business and apply a little pressure.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

The Fallen On Hard Times But Someone Has To Win (Maybe) Derby

Crystal Palace vs. Watford — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET (Premier League Extra Time)

When 2016 began, Crystal Palace were 5th in the PL. Unfortunately for them, the clock also struck midnight on what had been a hugely successful season to that point — five losses and one draw since, and they’re now 12th in the league table. The story is eerily similar for Watford, who were 7th after a Boxing Day draw with Chelsea — five losses, a draw and a win later, they’re 10th. A single point is all that separates Saturday’s combatants desperately hoping to regain their early-season form.

Is Roberto Martinez’s employment under review? It might be

Everton vs. West Bromwich Albion — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

Everton will be a fascinating club to watch as the 2015-16 season winds down. There’s essentially no chance of them finishing in the top-four or -five (12 and 6 points back, respectively), and they look essentially the same side that massively disappointed en route to an 11th-place finish last season — they’re atrocious and hugely naive defensively, which has been a characteristic of Roberto Martinez-managed teams since, well, the beginning of his managerial career. $100 million is a lot of money to spend over four transfer windows without any discernible progress.

Men In Blazers podcast: Leicester, Spurs continue to defy the odds

Men In Blazers - Sept. 22
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Rog and Davo break down Leicester City’s 3-1 win at Manchester City, marvel at Spurs going second in the table, and talk about the headlines surrounding the mid-table clash between Chelsea and United.

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

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