UNITED KINGDOM, April 30 – Andros Townsend’s stunning free-kick gave Newcastle United renewed hope of avoiding relegation from the Premier League with a tense 1-0 win over Crystal Palace at St James’ Park on Saturday.
But Rafa Benitez’s side were also indebted to unheralded goalkeeper Karl Darlow for a dramatic penalty save that denied ex-Toon midfielder Yohan Cabaye an equaliser 20 minutes from time.
Victory stretched the home side’s unbeaten run to four games as they climbed out of the bottom three for the first time since early February after taking eight points from the last 12.
Newcastle’s time above the drop zone could be brief, however, with fellow strugglers Norwich City visiting Arsenal in Saturday’s late kick-off.
Townsend broke the deadlock in the 58th minute with his third goal in five matches, with the England midfielder now having scored four goals for north-east side Newcastle since sealing a £12 million ($17.5 million, 15 million euros) from Tottenham Hotspur in January.
But it was third choice keeper Darlow — only in the side because of long-term knee injuries suffered by Tim Krul and Rob Elliot — who ensured a priceless victory when he dived to his left to block a tame spot-kick from France international Cabaye, who was mercilessly booed by Newcastle fans.
– Palace problems –
Former Newcastle boss Alan Pardew received a rather less hostile reception on his first return to St James’ Park since leaving to manage Palace in December 2014.
But of greater concern to the 54-year-old will be the fact that with 39 points on the board, his FA Cup finalists are still not mathematically safe from relegation as they stretched their unwanted run in the league to a single win in 19 games.
Palace were on the back foot once Townsend picked himself up having been fouled by Scott Dann to curl a sublime 25-yard free-kick left-footed into the top corner past Wayne Hennessey.
The 24-year-old Townsend has already scored more to flight goals in three months at Newcastle than he managed in 50 appearances for Spurs.
Cabaye, unpopular with Newcastle fans for going on strike to force a move to Paris St Germain in January 2014, was handed a chance to level when Moussa Sissoko was harshly adjudged to have handled the Frenchman’s corner in an aerial tussle with Dann.
But his spot-kick lacked conviction, allowing Darlow to save with ease in front of an ecstatic Gallowgate End.
Palace dominated early on, with Darlow saving well from Jason Puncheon and also beating out Yannick Bolasie’s 25-yard volley.
Palace midfielder Bolasie then went close from even further out, when he was allowed to sprint 30 yards from half-way to send in a long-range shot which flew narrowly wide.
Newcastle gained more of a foothold as the first-half wore on.
Chancel Mbemba forced a good save low to his left from Hennessey with a speculative long-range effort, and Jack Colback should have done better when curling a chance wide from 15 yards after neat approach play on the edge of the area by Jamaal Lascelles found the midfielder in space, only for him to hurry an attempt which failed to test the Palace keeper.
Hennessey, however, had no chance as Townsend fired Newcastle ahead, and it was the Welshman’s opposite number Darlow who took centre-stage to cement his cult status on Tyneside.
Darlow’s penalty save could yet go a long way to securing Newcastle’s top-flight status as they look for maximum points, away to already-relegated Aston Villa and at home to Tottenham, in their final two games of the season.