Dar­low: I will never for­get penalty save if it keeps us up

New­cas­tle United Townsend 58 1 Crys­tal Palace 0 Att: 52,107

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - PREMIER LEAGUE - By Luke Edwards

In ev­ery tri­umphant cam­paign there is a point when the mo­men­tum shifts, when the seeds of vic­tory are planted and the fear of de­feat is re­placed by the an­tic­i­pa­tion of suc­cess.

That mo­ment could well have been pro­vided by New­cas­tle United’s third-choice goal­keeper, Karl Dar­low, when he dived to his left in front of a trau­ma­tised Gal­low­gate End, to push away Yo­han Cabaye’s se­cond-half penalty.

An­dros Townsend may have scored the goal that won the game for New­cas­tle – a sub­lime free-kick which found the top cor­ner with the pre­ci­sion of a laser-guided scalpel – but it was Dar­low’s penalty save that felt like the true turn­ing point.

Ref­eree Mike Dean was pos­si­bly the only man in the sta­dium who saw the ball brush the hand of Moussa Sis­soko, as he jumped with Damien De­laney, al­though the New­cas­tle cap­tain was stupid to have his arms raised above his head.

When the home sup­port re­alised Dean was point­ing to the spot, it felt like some­one had pushed New­cas­tle over, grabbed hold of their an­kles and was drag­ging them into the Cham­pi­onship. Dar­low’s penalty save forced them to re­lease their grip.

“It is pos­si­bly the most im­por­tant save I’ve made in my ca­reer,” said Dar­low, signed from Not­ting­ham For­est in 2014 but loaned back to the Cham­pi­onship club for another sea­son. “In foot­ball you have dif­fer­ent mo­ments in your ca­reer that you re­mem­ber and that will def­i­nitely be one of them if it keeps us in the di­vi­sion.

“I don’t have a clue what went on with the penalty. I thought he [Dean] had blown up for a foul on one of our de­fend­ers, so I was just get­ting ready to take a free-kick and then he pointed at the spot.

“There wasn’t much go­ing through my mind. It was one of those where I had just picked the way to go, dived hard and then re­acted to the ball. It was a good mo­ment for me and those three points could be mas­sive come the end of the sea­son.”

New­cas­tle would not have won this game three weeks ago. They would not have won this game with­out Rafael Benítez, who has some­how man­aged to breathe life into a corpse. Dar­low would have dived the wrong way, Cabaye would have taken the con­grat­u­la­tions of his team-mates and Crys­tal Palace would have re­turned to London with at least one point, pos­si­bly even all three.

But New­cas­tle are dif­fer­ent now and they are on a charge. Fight­ing a lost cause be­fore the 3-0 win over Swansea City a fort­night ago, they now have gen­uine hope of avoiding rel­e­ga­tion.

A pre­vi­ously shoddy group of play­ers has re­sponded to Benítez’s emer­gency treat­ment, the Spa­niard’s re­fusal to give up on them breed­ing con­fi­dence and de­ter­mi­na­tion.

New­cas­tle are more or­gan­ised, more clever tac­ti­cally, res­o­lute and, per­haps more im­por­tantly, they are play­ing as a team rather than a col­lec­tion of ex­pen­sively as­sem­bled in­di­vid­u­als. When that hap­pens, a team’s luck tends to im­prove as well.

Palace were the bet­ter team in the first half and Dar­low made two good saves to keep out well-struck shots from Cabaye and the con­stantly ex­cit­ing Yan­nick Bo­lasie.

New­cas­tle ap­peared to have caught a case of the rel­e­ga­tion jit­ters, a team used to false dawns play­ing in front of sup­port­ers used to their team in­flict­ing pain.

Sis­soko had a half-chance but failed to make a proper con­nec­tion with a stabbed vol­ley. Jack Col­back was given a bet­ter open­ing but curled his shot well wide.

Not for the first time, what­ever Benítez said and changed at half­time worked. New­cas­tle came out with more vigour and were on the front foot when the lively Townsend was brought down by Scott Dann.

The roar that ex­ploded in­side the sta­dium when his free-kick nes­tled in the net would have been heard across the city, pos­si­bly even as far south as Sun­der­land, who New­cas­tle have moved above in the ta­ble.

“The fans are amaz­ing now,” said Benítez, whose name was chanted reg­u­larly by the home fans, some­thing Alan Pardew never ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing his time at St James’ Park. “With me, with the team, hope­fully it will be the same against Tot­ten­ham and they can make the dif­fer­ence.”

Pardew’s re­turn was sur­pris­ingly low key. He re­fused to speak to the lo­cal me­dia af­ter the de­feat and al­though he may like to be the cen­tre of at­ten­tion, he was ef­fec­tively ig­nored by New­cas­tle sup­port­ers. They did not boo, jeer or even sing about him, they just acted like he was not there.

“I don’t know why Alan didn’t do the press,” said his as­sis­tant, Keith Millen. “He said to me, ‘ We are in a rush, have a tight sched­ule, we have got to get the plane back, we have got to leave soon’, so he asked me to do the writ­ten press.”

Vi­tal save: Karl Dar­low cel­e­brates a cru­cial vic­tory af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle

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