Monday, December 23, 2013

Brazilian strips leave the Palace exposed

Crystal Palace 0-3 Newcastle Utd 

Drunk on Christmas spirit (metaphorically, you understand), friend of the blog Tim generously agreed to contribute a match report. And here it is.

Selhurst Park holds some happy playing memories for the Silver Fox and the same can be said for yet another group of Newcastle players who registered a fifth consecutive win - albeit spread over 20 years - away to Palace. The last home win in this fixture was a Vince Hilaire-inspired rout against Arthur Cox’s promotion-winning side of 1983/4.

The Eagles were expected to be more competitive than earlier in the season under Ian Holloway - a win over 5under1and aside. The temporary stewardship of Keith Millen and subsequently the (now not quite so) unpopular permanent choice of Tony Pulis had reorganised and rejuvenated the players, recently resulting in back-to-back home wins and a round of applause (for the supporters) from Jose Mourinho in a narrow defeat at Stamford Bridge last time out. That improvement in form, combined with a sodden pitch, driving rain, and not being certain whether it would be a great or indifferent Newcastle performance (most likely a half of each) meant this was difficult to call, with the bookies having Newcastle as slight favourites.

With Dreamboat available after suspension, the Silver Fox opted for the same 4-5-1 formation (and Brazil strip) that broke the Old Trafford hoodoo - Big Lad returning to bench-warming duties with Little Big Lad, HBA and Papiss Cisse.

Pre-match “entertainment” was provided by some girls desperately trying to hang on to their pom-poms and their dignity - and an eagle (I’m reliably informed called Kayla) swooping the length of the pitch from one crossbar to the other.

After a forgettable first 10 minutes - other than a couple of woeful long balls from Mr T - Newcastle finally wrestled the ball from the elements. With the whole side more than matching their hosts for industry (full-backs Davide Santon and Mathieu Debuchy particularly eager to get forward), prompted impeccably by Mini V with Dreamboat revelling in a floating role, Newcastle seized the initiative.

After a break appeared to have broken down, Mini V picked up Dean Moxey’s half-clearance and fed Moussa Sissoko out right who, after an exchange with Debuchy, cut inside a defender and picked out Dreamboat in space having shoved pulled away from his marker, and whose firmly placed shot from 12 yards wouldn’t have troubled Julian Speroni in goal had it not been for a fortuitous deflection.

That was followed by the first real threats on the away goal, as Marouane Chamakh finally had an opportunity to demonstrate his (until recently) well-concealed ability, sparking an attack that Santon should have cleared, instead presenting the ball to Cameron Jerome, whose shot on the turn was well saved by Tim Krul’s legs. Krul came for, flapped at and missed the resulting corner kick, which dropped onto the unsuspecting knee of (the New) Mike Williamson who was as pleased as the rest of us to see Mini V in place to clear off the line.

Rather than sitting on a single goal, Newcastle continued to work hard to retain and regain possession - exemplified by the unselfish efforts of Loic Remy up front. The on-loan striker was soon rewarded for his earlier exertions as Danny Gabbidon thrust out a leg to clear a Debuchy cross - not realising Remy had given up on it - only to see it diverted beyond Speroni into the far corner.

Pulis replaced both Moxey and Barry Bannan at the break, with both left-sided players having trouble stifling Sissoko and Debuchy and offering little in return at the other end. Newcastle were clearly under instruction to hold firm for the first ten minutes of the half, expecting Palace to push for an early goal, but the main threat came from our own sloppiness - Santon instigating a hairy passage of play after a misjudged header which eventually came to nothing.

A decent spell of possession helped calm defensive anxieties and Newcastle started to commit more players forward again. Speroni’s outstretched left hand thwarted the late swerve on a speculative Dreamboat free-kick. Palace’s best chance of getting back into the game fell to Jerome midway through the half. Mile Jedinak headed Jason Puncheon’s free-kick back across the goal which dropped to Jerome, unmarked as Mr T had slipped, only for the striker to volley over.

Dreamboat tried his luck from long range again after cutting in from the left, before the game became increasingly scrappy, with Newcastle happy to hold on to possession. The introduction of Big Lad and HBA rejuvenated the visitors, the latter immediately causing havoc with a mazy, stumbling run laying off to Goofy on the edge of the box who beat Speroni but not the post.

Mini V then fed Big Lad whose control on the turn took him past Damien Delaney and into the box, only to be tripped by Jonathan Parr from the side. Speroni got both hands on HBA's badly placed though firmly struck spot-kick but the ball flew into the top corner for 3-0.

A rare comfortable win, let alone an away one and no new injury concerns, keeps us well placed to contend with the demands of the rest of the Christmas programme, continuing with Stoke at home on Boxing Day. The only downside was Mr T’s fifth yellow card and one game suspension, but that was bound to happen sooner or later and at least he’ll be available for the visit of Arsenal.

I was going to finish with a disparaging remark about the hosts - something along the lines of Pulis needing to add someone who knows where the goal is come January, as they currently only have Kayla in that department - in response to the recently converted Palace fan in the pub before kick-off who said I'd "come a long way to get beat" (I hadn't, on either count), but this blog is usually above that and I don't want to lower standards more than I already have. And besides, Glenn Murray is nearly fit again. 

Thanks again to Tim for his eyewitness account.

Other reports: BBC, Observer

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