Newcastle 1-0 C Palace. By Roger Domeneghetti at St James’ Park
There was something in the Tyneside air before this match kicked off: hope. Off the pitch, the fans, who have long had an antagonistic relationship with club owner Mike Ashley, are increasingly optimistic that they’ll soon see the back of him following the news that several interested parties are circling the club since he put it up for sale.
On the pitch, Rafa Benitez’s team sits in sixth place, just two points outside the Champions League places.
And that translated into a loud, buoyant atmosphere inside St James’ Park ahead of the game. It wasn’t one for the purists and even die-hard Magpies had gone quiet late in the second half, but that all changed in the 84th minute when James McArthur’s headed clearance rebounded off Mikel Merino and past Julian Speroni.
The game was not pretty, but there is no denying that Benitez has crafted a hard-working
Newcastle team that is greater than the sum of its parts.
After the match the manager refused to get carried away, justifiably repeating the cliche that the team must take every game at a time. However, he was willing to admit that had he been offered 14 points after nine games on the day the transfer window closed he would gladly have taken it.
“We are coming from the Championship,” said the Spaniard, “we didn’t sign too many players. “If you’d told me after September 1 that this is where we would be, I would tell you: ‘Fine.’ It’s a credit to our players, they are doing really well.”
“It is important to make sure these players continue to believe that they can improve and get better. We won today but it wasn’t a great game but you can see that the room for improvement is there and we have to stay positive.”
Although Roy Hodgson’s Palace side never looked like a team with just one win, three points and two goals from their previous eight league games, he was left searching for the positives from another defeat which sees his team rooted to the bottom.
“You don’t always get what you deserve,” said the former England boss. “I would have been more disappointed had the performance not been as good as I wanted it to be. But when you give a good performance, you always hope you are going to get your reward. On this occasion we didn’t.”