Crystal Palace 1 Newcastle United 0
Crystal Palace secured their first Premier League victory since 26 December after a vibrant performance to see off colourless, below-par Newcastle United at Selhurst Park.
Patrick van Aanholt’s marvellous set piece on the cusp of half time was, on the face of it, the only difference between the sides, although the visitors were, in the main, outpaced and outclassed.
Roy Hodgson had assured the club’s fans in the match day programme that fortunes were poised for a fresh turn. “I have no doubt that today we will see a rejuvenated Crystal Palace side,” noted the Eagles manager. For the majority of the encounter he got his wish, although Palace really should have won by a notably more handsome margin. Newcastle’s misery was encapsulated by a late red card for Valentino Lazaro.
Only a number of fine saves from Martin Dubravka, the Newcastle goalkeeper, prevented what could have been potential embarrassment for Steve Bruce’s outfit, afflicted by an utter bluntness up front, a trend which has been ongoing all term. Still, the outcome was gratefully received by the home support at the end; an important staging post towards absolute Premier League safety.
In a clash highlighted as one where both sides would find the net hard to come by, Palace began positively.
And the Eagles, lying a point behind their opponents in 14th place in the table, were first to threaten in the sixth minute. From a James McCarthy corner, Gary Cahill climbed up eight yards out, but his goal bound header was brilliantly clawed away by Dubravka.
Jordan Ayew then tested alert Dubravka a few moments later only for his low shot to lack sufficient power. But the portents were at least there in Palace’s play to rouse the characteristically vociferous south London faithful.
Even in the opening quarter it was becoming plainly obvious that the Magpies – who had, incidentally, not won in their last four visits to Selhurst Park - were forced to try and contain Palace, seemingly fresher from their recent winter break. Once more Dubravka was the man the visitors had to thank, with another superb save, this time tipping away a Scott Dann header.
Next, it was Christian Benteke’s turn to go close – only the stuttering forward reverted to type, despite last week’s consolation goal in the defeat at Everton, with a simple opportunity to head home. However, his header from four yards out somehow spun wide, much to the dismay of Hodgson on the touchline.
Gradually, if somewhat painstakingly, Newcastle inched their way into proceedings towards the end of the first half, with the normally flamboyant Allan Saint-Maximim leading by example with probing, distribution, twists and turns. All these brief garnishes of French impudence came to nothing for Newcastle, however, with Palace keeper Vicente Guaita largely unoccupied. Joelinton, meanwhile, the Magpies’ much-maligned £40m Brazilian was again peripheral all afternoon, surely increasing concerns regarding manager Bruce’s investment notions.
Meanwhile, Ayew, proving far less of a dead weight in contrast, managed to bend a lovely shot, Wilfried Zaha-style, a few inches wide, with the Eagles surging forward in their game attempts to break the deadlock, although the action was curtailed at times due to a niggly nature which resulted in four bookings in the opening period, three of them for United.
And then up stepped Van Aanholt to draw blood. The Dutchman curled a textbook left footed free kick from around 20 yards out which not even the impressive Dubravka could get a hand to. The goal was fully merited for all the Eagles’ enterprise throughout windy conditions.
Much of this industry was typified by Ayew. At the start of the second half, the forward, manoeuvring into space in the Newcastle penalty area, clipped the post; an effort closely followed by Cahill once again confidently lending weight to the quest for a second.
The Magpies, unsurprisingly, found themselves restricted to long range speculative pots. Guaita turned over a 25 yard shot by Fabian Schar in what was their only reasonable threat.
Unmarked Ayew resumed service at the other end, testing Dubravka with a decent shot. Tempers began to fray in the closing minutes, Newcastle’s frustration a clear issue. The ordering off for exposed Lazaro, fouling the on rushing Zaha in injury time, reflected their dismal mood.
Looking ahead, Hodgson will be the much more satisfied manager on this evidence.
Crystal Palace: Guaita, Ward, Van Aanholt, Dann, Kouyate (Tosun 88), Ayew, Zaha, Benteke (Riedewald 88), McArthur, McCarthy, Cahill