Crystal Palace secured their first win of the year with a dominant performance at Selhurst Park, as an excellent Patrick van Aanholt free-kick late in the first half won the Eagles all three points.
The home side had the better of the play in the opening half, but having looked like they would fail to make their numerous chances count, finally took the lead in the 43rd minute through the Dutch left-back.
Tasked with the responsibility for many of Palace’s set pieces with Luka Milivojevic out through illness, Van Aanholt took the ball following a foul on Ayew and placed it down confidently. His curling strike flew past Martin Dubravka into the top-left corner of the net.
The visiting goalkeeper had made a series of good saves to keep the score tied. Corners — so often maligned as one of Palace’s weak spots — looked to be the most likely route to goal. A Gary Cahill header looked like it would give the home side an early lead in the seventh minute, but the Slovakian goalkeeper got his palm to it. And a Scott Dann header just 10 minutes later also looked goalbound only for the keeper to reach it with a stretching save.
Palace were positive throughout the opening half, with Roy Hodgson’s side always on the front foot. Jordan Ayew, looking energised following the winter break, had an opportunity to score midway through the first half when a quick turn saw him bypass Newcastle’s midfield, only for him to fire a tame shot at the goalkeeper. He made a similar run in the 40th minute, but an excellent curling shot fizzed just wide of the far post.
James McArthur played a pivotal role in Palace’s midfield, frequently transitioning the ball from defensive areas into the front three. The midfielder, partnered alongside Kouyate and James McCarthy, also played his part in harrying Newcastle’s midfield and back line, forcing the visitors into errors as they tried to play the ball out of defence.
Following such a positive first half, the expectation was that the home side would push on for a second goal. However, the Eagles struggled to take the initiative in a disruptive second half, despite again having the majority of possession.
Profligate finishing was again the most pressing issue, with Ayew twice finding himself in space on the back post with just the goal to aim at, only to fire a tame shot wide the first time and a weak shot into Dubravka the second time.
The Eagles had another chance which they didn’t take midway through the second half when Cahill once again failed to take advantage of an excellent Van Aanholt corner into the box.
However, it would prove to be Palace’s day, and it was rounded off when Valentino Lozano was sent off in injury time following a crude foul on Wilfried Zaha. The Palace attacker found himself in a one-on-one confrontation with the defender, rounded him only to then get pulled back.
Van Aanholt fired the resulting free-kick over the bar, but he’d already done enough with his first-half goal.
PICTURES BY KEITH GILLARD
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