Thursday 22 March 2018

Benitez lifts Magpies' hopes

Newcastle United 1 Crystal Palace 0

Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez celebrates with Andros Townsend at the end of the match. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez celebrates with Andros Townsend at the end of the match. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Crystal Palace's Yannick Bolasie is persued by Newcastle players. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Crystal Palace's Yohan Cabaye takes a tumble during a clash with Newcastle's Cheick Tiote. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Crystal Palace's Yannick Bolasie is tackled by Newcastle's Vurnon Anita during the match at St James' Park. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters

Luke Edwards

In every triumphant campaign there is a point when the momentum shifts , when the seeds of victory are planted and the fear of defeat is replaced by the anticipation of success.

That moment could well have been provided by Newcastle United's third-choice goalkeeper Karl Darlow when he dived to his left in front of a traumatised Gallowgate End to push away Yohan Cabaye's second-half penalty.

Andros Townsend may have scored the goal that won the game for Newcastle - a sublime free-kick which found the top corner with the precision of a laser-guided scalpel - but it was Darlow's penalty save that felt like the true turning point.

Referee Mike Dean was possibly the only man in the stadium who saw the ball brush the hand of Moussa Sissoko as he jumped with Damien Delaney.

When the home supporters realised Dean was pointing to the spot, it felt like someone had pushed Newcastle over, grabbed hold of their ankles and was dragging them into the Championship. Darlow's penalty save forced them to release their grip.

"It is possibly the most important save I've made in my career," said Darlow, signed from Nottingham Forest in 2014 but loaned back to the Championship club for another season.

"In football you have different moments in your career that you remember and that will definitely be one of them if it keeps us in the division."

Newcastle would not have won this game three weeks ago. They would not have won this game without Rafael Benítez, who has somehow managed to breathe life into a corpse. Darlow would have dived the wrong way, Cabaye would have taken the congratulations of his team-mates and Crystal Palace would have returned to London with at least one point, possibly even all three.

But Newcastle are different now and they are on a charge. Fighting a lost cause before the 3-0 win over Swansea City a fortnight ago, they now have genuine hope of avoiding relegation.

A previously shoddy group of players has responded to Benítez's emergency treatment, the Spaniard's refusal to give up on them breeding confidence and determination.

Newcastle are more organised, more clever tactically, resolute and, perhaps more importantly, they are playing as a team rather than a collection of expensively assembled individuals.

Palace were the better team in the first half and Darlow made two good saves to keep out well-struck shots from Cabaye and the constantly exciting Yannick Bolasie.

Newcastle appeared to have caught a case of the relegation jitters, a team used to false dawns playing in front of supporters used to their team inflicting pain.

Not for the first time, whatever Benítez said and changed at half-time worked. Newcastle came out with more vigour and were on the front foot when the lively Townsend was brought down by Scott Dann.

The roar that exploded inside the stadium when his free-kick nestled in the net would have been heard across the city , possibly even as far south as Sunderland.

"The fans are amazing now," said Benítez, whose name was chanted regularly by the home supporters. © Daily Telegraph, London.

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