Darlow: I will never forget penalty save if it keeps us up
Newcastle United Townsend 58 1 Crystal Palace 0 Att: 52,107
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