Newcastle 1 Crystal Palace 0 – Saturday 30 April 2016 3pm
I had a horrible sensation before this game. I felt optimistic.
Regardless of personal feeling, I genuinely thought that the most likely outcome of today’s games would be to fall in Newcastle’s favour.
With Norwich away to Arsenal and Sunderland exhibiting an inexplicable degree of confidence for their trip to Stoke, considering they can only draw games, United had the best chance of gaining ground at home to hapless Crystal Palace. Cup finalists, yes, but also the victors in only one of their 18 Premier League matches in 2016. Were it not for some strong results in the early part of the season, Alan Pardew’s side would be comfortably en route to the Championship, which is a phrase you may well have heard before, more than once and closer to home.
This is why the optimism felt so ill-fitting. If, against form and necessity, Palace created an upset today it would be one of the most sickening days in living memory.
Failure here would go a long way to condemning us to the next division, accompanied by disgusting crowing from under qualified fly-by-nights about how we should never have disrespected Pardew, with their imminent Wembley defeat to Man Utd held up as evidence, the one win in eighteen as conveniently overlooked as the many similar runs of misery inflicted on our club during the era of Pardewism.
The early interchanges did little to dispel the constant jitters as Palace looked better than the hungover, Wembley-jaded pushovers many had expected (including Sam Allardyce).
Ex-Mackem Conor Wickham threatened to pull off the unpopular goal scorer trick after 10 minutes, but wonderful, magnificent Jamal Lascelles slid in with a tackle that belonged in a film about brilliant footballers being fantastic, sliding in impossibly from behind and coming away with the ball, with Wickham looking utterly baffled that he didn’t have possession any more. Make that lad captain.
Darlow was then on hand to make his first notable stop of the afternoon, closing down Cabaye as our former hero found room in the box. Cabaye was roundly booed all afternoon but looking back you can’t really blame him for wanting to get out of this madhouse to live in Paris. What I do blame him for is his many pedestrian performances when the going got tough here, potentially a factor in the PSG dream going sour and ending up in South London.
At the other end United probed with little end product, as Cisse had another period of looking a bit lost up front alone. The first real test for Hennessey came at the end of a spot of midfield interplay that no one seemed willing to move forward until Mbemba came charging through from the back, unleashing a fizzing shot that the Palace keeper bundled away.
By this point, a rather bizarre pattern had emerged. Despite there being considerable time on the clock, no score and them having little to play for, Palace deemed it necessary to begin blatant time-wasting.
Andros Townsend would later call this an attempt to relegate us and Alan Pardew pretended he was ashamed of it, but with the second half seemingly our stronger these days, it just appeared to be downright odd as goal kicks were procrastinated on and injuries feigned.
In spite of this there was enough effort to cause concern from the Eagles as Darlow was again on hand to save sharply from Bolasie’s thunderous drive in our dodgy period immediately before half time.
The second half, once again, belonged to Newcastle. Wijnaldum had been anonymous yet again in his first half showing, but he brightened up considerably after the break, brilliantly fashioning one of the chances he put away often in the early season only to blast into a Palace defender.
Then came the sweet relief of the breakthrough.
Anita’s long ball was carried forward by Townsend who threaded between opposition defenders before succumbing to Dann’s clumsy challenge. A confabulation then occurred that gave the impression no one really knew whereabouts to put this free kick. It turns out Townsend knew exactly where to put it – OOF!
Over the wall and into the top corner, way beyond Hennessey’s reach. A tremendous free kick, and probably the first we’ve scored since a bloke playing for the opposition wore our colours.
Speaking of that guy, he was busy undergoing another round of Strawberry Corner booing while delivering an innocuous-looking corner when he was unexpectedly thrown into the centre of the drama. A soft looking penalty was given for a semi-handball by Sissoko, jumping to defend the corner and up stepped Yohan. The tabloids had already written the headlines of “Pards and Cab sink Toon” before Darlow produced a moment that could be beyond crucial, diving to his left to batter away the spot kick. Bedlam.
Incidentally, I’ve noticed the stupidest of mackems on social media suggesting it was old boys favours from Cabaye in missing the penalty. As well as being utterly unfair on Darlow and disrespectful to Cabaye as a professional, it flies in the face of the glaringly obvious point that if he’d wanted to miss the penalty, he’d have missed the goal altogether you thick-headed cockwombles.
The remaining 20 minutes were insufferable. Perez and Townsend both got free in counter-attacks but couldn’t get their shot off. Mitrovic powered an opening for Perez but he blazed over.
With injury time approaching, news filtered through that the mackems had spawned a poxy point with a dubious late penalty. Suddenly a Palace equaliser would set us back to square one and the five minutes of added time crept by agonisingly.
Fortunately they were negotiated, and Norwich’s later defeat at the Emirates rubber-stamped our escape from the bottom three for at least the next week. Having been the big winners this weekend, our hopes surely rely on repeating the trick this coming Saturday, with Villa a shambles who must be defeated while our rivals face the more intimidating prospects of Chelsea and Man Utd. Another day like today and their games in hand will be irrelevant.
Finally, I have to recognise the magnificent pre-match rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone” during the minute’s applause for the way overdue justice for the Hillsborough victims.
This magnificently fought battle is important on so many fronts, and I’m very proud of everyone for recognising the amazing people who took it on.
This was a good day.
Here are the stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 1 Crystal Palace 0
Newcastle: Townsend 58
Possession was Newcastle 50% Palace 50%
Total shots were Newcastle 10 and Palace 9
Shots on target were Newcastle 4 and Palace 3
Corners were Newcastle 4 and Palace 8
Team: Darlow, Anita (Shelvey 88), Lascelles, Mbemba, Dummett, Townsend, Tiote, Colback, Sissoko, Wijnaldum (Perez 80), Cisse (Mitrovic 72)
Unused Subs: Woodman, de Jong, Taylor, Mbabu
Ref: Mike Dean
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