Sunday, August 23, 2009

A stroll in the (Selhurst) Park

Crystal Palace 0 - 2 Newcastle Utd

Our second away day in the Championship, and two first half strikes from two first-time Newcastle goalscorers Kevin Nolan and Ryan Taylor proved enough to clip the Eagles' wings. It perhaps begs the question why they and their fellow midfielders couldn't have had the decency to weigh in with goals last season, when we so desperately needed them - but the fact is that we're in the division we're in (and all that entails - mascots, pre-match cheerleading displays and toilets like war zones) and a few more wins like this will have us thinking we'll be out of it again before too long.

Following Bigger Lad's injury against Wednesday, Chris Hughton sprang something of a surprise by opting to play Danny Guthrie and not Nolan in the hole behind Big Lad. The formation certainly didn't hinder the former Bolton man from getting into advanced positions, though, and there were less than two minutes on the clock when he slid the ball into the Palace net from Spiderman's cute pass.

Nerves settled and platform for victory established, we looked to double our advantage, Nolan's header missing the target and Ryan Taylor's awkward low free-kick repelled by 'keeper Darryl Flahavan. Our former nemesis did find the back of the net on 21 minutes, though, finally proving he can score against sides other than us - and, even more surprisingly, that he's capable of hitting beautiful curling shots with his left foot as well as his right.

Ignore the latest rantings of Palace manager Colin Wanker, who labelled the two goals "disgraceful" - they were both high quality strikes, and both set up by Spiderman, who was the exact opposite of his usual self: no all-action display, no pace and no trickery, but two key passes. If the Argentinian stays beyond the closure of the transfer window (and Diego Maradona has reportedly told him he needn't fear being dropped from the national squad if he does), all we can hope for is that he's able to put in a complete performance for a change.

Further chances followed for Nolan, once when he was foiled when through on goal having picked a Palace defender's pocket with ease, and then with a right-footed shot straight into Flahavan's arms. But it certainly wasn't all one-way traffic, old boy Darren Ambrose (inevitably) trying to follow up his brace against another former club Ipswich in midweek by testing Steve Harper's reflexes, while later a free header from Alan Lee sailed improbably wide of the far post.

The second half performance was tantamount to a declaration that we were happy with our lot and uninterested in extending the lead, the only real opportunity of note coming when a mazy Guthrie run ended with Big Lad blazing over from a great position. Aside from a handful of decent knock-downs and flick-ons, he ambled about with that familiar apparent half-heartedness - I've heard of resting on your laurels, but he was largely comatose on them. The reworked version of the 'Hokey Cokey' gave way to a chant of "If Shola scores, we're on the pitch" and of course we went nowhere - unlike the loon in the Holmesdale Road End who responded to a policeman's polite request to leave the stadium by punching him in the face, before being grappled to the ground, handcuffed and escorted away to a very vocal Geordie "Cheerio".

Palace for their part kept at it, we survived a few dicey moments (including an Ambrose free-kick with minutes remaining) and captain Alan Smith could have been punished for tangling with Alassane N'Diaye in the penalty area. Had their finishing been better, we would have suffered - perhaps some indication of the leeway we'll be allowed in this league. Individually our defenders played well - Fabricio Coloccini and Danny Simpson were tidy while Jose Enrique was particularly impressive - but collectively they granted Palace too many opportunities and that third consecutive clean sheet owed more to good fortune than to sterling defending.

Third place after four games, then - something few of us foresaw given the events (or lack of them) over the summer, so something to be celebrated. But there's still no official word on whether Barry Moat's bid for the club has been successful, and further player sales seem likely before August is out (sales that will be costly to our promotion bid in the long term unless we can get decent replacements in quickly). The fans once again endeavoured to leave Fat Mike and Steven Taylor in no doubt as to their feelings on them both personally - let's hope they were listening.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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