Mikel Merino came off the bench to head Newcastle to a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace with his first goal in English football.
The Spaniard’s bullet header from Matt Ritchie’s 85th-minute corner handed the Magpies a win they barely deserved on an afternoon where they were poor for long periods before producing a late flurry.
Palace, who enjoyed the better of much of the game, ultimately paid for not making the most of their chances, the best of which fit-again winger Wilfried Zaha headed wide before the break.
Both sets of fans in a crowd of 52,251 arrived at St James’ Park with hope renewed, the locals amid talk of a takeover which they hope will bring fresh investment and the visitors having seen their side finally end their wait for a first league win of the campaign.
What they saw on a grey Tyneside afternoon, however, was far more prosaic as Newcastle laboured in the quest for creativity and the Eagles were unable to rediscover the incision which served them so well against the men from Stamford Bridge.
Newcastle had correctly identified Zaha as the biggest threat to their hopes of a positive result and had tasked midfielder Ritchie with providing the support full-back DeAndre Yedlin needed to keep him at bay.
Zaha and former Magpie Andros Townsend, who was booed at every touch, were paired in a makeshift attack once again and, while they caused problems, they were unable to trouble keeper Rob Elliot to any great extent.
Elliot had to claw away Zaha’s 23rd-minute shot from a tight angle after Jeffrey Schlupp had failed to make meaningful contact with an attempted header, and Zaha was appealing in vain for a penalty four minutes later after going down under Yedlin’s challenge.
Yohan Cabaye’s late tackle on Yedlin seconds later sparked a melee which prompted referee Stuart Attwell to book Jamaal Lascelles and Patrick van Aanholt as well as the Frenchman.
Ritchie saw a 26th-minute effort deflected wide by Mamadou Sakho and Christian Atsu blasted into the side-netting, but the unmarked Zaha spurned the first half’s best chance six minutes before the break when he headed wastefully wide from Townsend’s cross.
The home side found themselves defending deep as Palace dominated possession in the early stages of the second half, but inspiration remained in short supply.
Full-back Van Aanholt sliced a shot comically wide after a surging run towards goal, but the visitors continued to fire blanks while the hosts could not even get close enough to goal to create an opportunity worthy of mention.
Townsend send a dipping 65th-minute shot over Elliot’s crossbar, but Newcastle belatedly found their feet and, after substitute Mohamed Diame had warmed keeper Julian Speroni’s hands with a curling effort, Jonjo Shelvey caused him a degree of difficulty with a swerving long-range strike which he just about managed to block.
Van Aanholt only just failed to connect with substitute Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s cross as he slid in at the far post with 10 minutes remaining, but Merino struck from Ritchie’s corner to snatch victory at the death.
Source: By PA Sport Staff
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