Merino in­ter­ven­tion key for Mag­pies

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER -

MIKEL Merino came off the bench to head New­cas­tle to vic­tory over Crys­tal Palace with his first goal in English foot­ball.

The Spa­niard’s bul­let header from Matt Ritchie’s 85 th-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 Wil- fried 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, 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 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 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 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.

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 they be­lat­edly found their feet and Merino struck from Ritchie’s cor­ner to snatch vic­tory at the death.

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