Due to what can only be a scheduling error, there was a rude interruption to the wild and wonderful takeover speculation and the Chronicle’s constant profiling of Amanda Staveley, while Newcastle insisted on playing a football match. How very irregular.
The previously atrocious Palace had screeched their horrendous run to a halt against Chelsea the previous week, and there had to be the fear that we might get both barrels of a resurgence, as Roy Hodgson gets to grips with the Eagles.
It was a banana skin that many a mentally weak Newcastle side of the past would have slipped on, but with Rafa, there is always hope that we are beyond these kind of pratfalls.
This was a fair summary of the turgid first half, as a lively Palace side had the best of the play, but the organisation and discipline of the United defence restricted them to precisely zero clear cut chances. The roundly booed Townsend was constantly looking to be involved but was given a battle by Manquillo, while on the other flank the dangerous Wilf Zaha learned the hard way that roasting your opponent for pace is not a thing when the opponent is DeAndre Yedlin, so resorted to falling over a lot in some bids to gain favour from the referee.
It wasn’t Zaha who got the ref’s biggest favour though, as the second most booed ex-Mag on the pitch found himself very lucky to stay on it. Cabaye’s late flying tackle on Yedlin had all the hallmarks of a red card; ref sprinting straight over, melee amongst team-mates, baying crowd screaming “Off”, it all looked bad for our former dreamboat. I can’t be the only person that sensed the deja vu of this, as the situation dragged on and on I thought “This is gonna be a sodding yellow isn’t it?” Sure enough the ineffective half-card came out, with the red kept firmly in its cellophane in the hope that Shelvey would give an excuse for it to make an appearance. It’s not even funny that people can’t get sent off against us any more.
The first half ground to an end, Atsu’s shot into the side netting the only semi-threatening moment of a typical stalemate. Palace’s tactic of playing two wingers with apparently no one in the middle has obvious shortcomings, whereas United’s front two of the struggling Joselu and the anonymous Perez offered little more. It did not look promising for the second half.
I had particular reason for wanting this game to come to life. I went to the match with my mate Andy and his two boys. Their family is from Bath, a city with little in the way of football loyalties, but their recent move to York has seen the boys’ interactions with silly kids wearing Man U tops pique their interest a bit. The fact that Andy’s youngest son Adam is my godson meant I felt a duty of care to get him into a proper team and today was to be the beginning of that indoctrination As the rain started plopping down at the outset of the equally pedestrian second half I started to wonder if I’d picked a bad time to initiate this process.
The introduction of Merino looked like a step in the right direction but the Spaniard initially failed to impact in the congested middle of the field. To be brutally honest, for me the second substitution was the one that changed the game, as the ineffective Perez was removed for Mo Diame. Diane seemed instantly involved in United’s sudden stream of attacks, unleashing a shot that called Speroni into action for the first time. Moments later Shelvey did the same and Mitrovic was sent on to add further impetus. Finally, this game was on.
Palace gave us a scare as their own substitute (and former United target) Loftus-Cheek went charging down the right and sent a fizzing ball over that Van Aanholt (ex Mags everywhere) narrowly missed connecting with.
United swiftly got back to exerting pressure though, and set about one of those periods of multiple corner winning as the clock wore down. It turned out that third time was the charm as Merino rose impressively high to power Ritchie’s delivery in off the bar. Blimey, he can do headers too!
The eruption that followed was saturated in relief. Palace had offered so little that it didn’t ever feel under threat and four minutes of injury time was negotiated without them adding to their no shots on target.
So, some 29 years after I endured a 0-0 with Derby as my introduction to St James Park, there was someone on hand to ensure my godson didn’t suffer the same slow introduction.
With these boy’s allegiances far more open to negotiation than mine ever was (or my kids’ will be when it comes to their turn), it may just be that Mikel Merino has done his bit to secure a couple of future magpies. It just goes to show, however insipid and nondescript a game may appear, it’s always a special one to someone.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 1 Crystal Palace 0
Newcastle: Merino 86
Possession was Palace 45% Newcastle 55%
Total shots were Palace 10 Newcastle 7
Shots on target were Palace 0 Newcastle 3
Corners were Palace 5 Newcastle 3
Referee: Stuart Attwell
Elliot, Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Manquillo, Ritchie, Shelvey, Hayden (Merino 56), Atsu, Perez (Diame 66), Joselu (Mitrovic 78)
Darlow, Clark, Gamez, Murphy
(Read what Rafa had to say after the match HERE)
(Andros Townsend believes Newcastle didn’t deserve to win – read it HERE)
(Garth Crooks believes Newcastle could win the Premier League if Rafa is given right resources – Read HERE)
(Read instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to the Palace match HERE)
(Alan Shearer reacts to win over Palace HERE)
(Amusing Roy Hodgson hard luck story after final whistle HERE)
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf