By Damian Spellman, PA
Miguel Almiron’s stunning strike handed Newcastle a sixth successive home Premier League win for the first time since 2004 as they smashed through the 40-point barrier.
Almiron’s 32nd-minute goal, his first for the club since February last year, was enough to claim a 1-0 win over beaten FA Cup semi-finalists Crystal Palace and lift the Magpies into 11th place, 15 points clear of the relegation zone.
However, they were forced to scrap all the way to the final whistle as Patrick Vieira’s side belatedly mounted a concerted counter-offensive in front of a crowd of 51,938 at St James’ Park, among them Newcastle chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan in a classic game of two halves.
Palace’s high-energy start pinned Newcastle back deep inside their own half, in possession but with little time of space to exploit it, although it took a timely block by Marc Guehi to keep out Almiron’s shot after Allan Saint-Maximin, Joelinton and Bruno Guimaraes had combined to set him up.
Saint-Maximin could not find a finish to match his mazy run after Joelinton had dispossessed Jeffrey Schlupp in midfield three minutes later, and the home side were appealing in vain for a penalty after Almiron blasted the ball against Cheikhou Kouyate’s out-stretched arm from point-blank range.
With both sides adopting solid shapes, they largely nullified each other’s threat to leave goalkeepers Martin Dubravka and Vicente Guaita virtual spectators.
But the Spaniard was picking the ball out of his net 13 minutes before the break when, after Guimaraes had collected Emil Krafth’s throw in on his chest and lifted a pass over the top of full-back Tyrick Mitchell, Almiron raced away before firing a shot across Guaita and inside the far post.
The Paraguay international was denied a second four minutes later when the keeper dived to his right to claim his dipping effort, and he also had to deal with a long-range effort from Guimaraes as the Magpies smelled blood.
Palace had a chance to level four minutes before the break after Joelinton’s error put Odsonne Edouard in on goal, but Dubravka dealt with his weak attempt comfortably.
The Magpies picked up were they had left off with Almiron seeing a shot blocked and Joelinton heading wide from Matt Targett’s free-kick inside the opening three minutes of the second half.
An out-of-sorts Wilfried Zaha redoubled his efforts to drag the visitors back into the game as they enjoyed their best spell of possession, but it was simply not happening for him.
Dan Burn had to be alert to deny substitute Jean-Philippe Mateta possession deep inside the Newcastle penalty area with 62 minutes gone, and Dubravka was relieved to see Zaha pull an attempt wide from Edouard’s pass three minutes later with Palace pressing.
Mateta and Edouard also both failed to test the keeper with headers, and Zaha with a last-gasp shot, from promising positions with the home side camped inside their own half and seemingly unable to escape, and referee Tony Harrington’s final whistle could not come soon enough for the locals.