Football: Beardsley trades on element of surprise: Palace thwarted by prodigious talent

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The Independent Online
Crystal Palace. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0 Newcastle United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1 CHAMPIONSHIP-winning teams cannot rely on individual genius alone, even when it is as obviously special as Peter Beardsley. They need players of skill and flexibility around him, and then reserves of strength for when the going gets tough. Newcastle scored on all these counts on Saturday, while a share of good fortune helped them extend their lead at the top of the Premiership.

At the age of 33, Beardsley still retains the capacity to surprise Kevin Keegan with a sublime talent that might have made all the difference to England's cause at Wembley last Wednesday. It proved the difference at Selhurst Park, just as a brave and honest Crystal Palace had decided, with only a minute remaining, that their reward from a heroic push for victory would be one point and not three.

A shimmy of the hips and a sway on to his left foot denied Palace even that target, the thunderbolt that followed sending Keegan out of his touchline shelter in an extravagant dance mixing joy with relief. Slightly embarrassed, he turned towards Alan Smith in the opposite corner, his outstretched palms and a shrug of the shoulders saying what everyone else was thinking: 'How can you stop talent like that?'

Keegan had given his favourite box of tricks a more withdrawn role on Saturday, just one adjustment forced on the Newcastle manager by the absence of four regulars through injury. In came Paul Kitson for his first Premiership start and at right-back Alan Neilson, who has won international caps for Wales but finds himself third choice for his club.

Both earned the manager's praise, Keegan venturing the opinion: 'Kitson has to have a place somewhere, the question is where?' He can't play in the Uefa Cup tomorrow against Athletic Bilbao and won't be eligible until the quarter-final stage, but Marc Hottiger and Darren Peacock should both be available, and Lee Clark stayed in reserve to be fresh for tomorrow.

No such glamour surrounds Palace's forthcoming fixtures, merely a grind to fight clear of the relegation places, and with Everton, Leicester, Coventry and Ipswich queueing up in opposition, their vision is clear.

They have still to win at home and have done so only once away, but should not find it difficult to survive if they can match the commitment and combinations that had Newcastle in fear for their unbeaten record. Gareth Southgate twice came close inside the first eight minutes, and again later when the black and white ranks parted to give him a sight of goal before Pavel Srnicek raced to block out the light.

Smith will hope to have honed his team's finishing edge long before they visit St James' Park on 13 May, the final League Saturday. What price Newcastle - who have now won all seven away games - being crowned champions that day as well?

Goal: Beardsley (90).

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Martyn; Humphrey, Shaw, Coleman, Gordon; Bowry, Southgate, Newman, Salako; Armstrong, Preece. Substitutes not used: Pitcher, Dyer, Wilmot (gk).

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Srnicek; Neilson, Howey, Albert, Beresford; Fox, Beardsley, Watson, Sellars; Kitson, Cole. Substitutes not used: Drysdale, Clark, Hooper (gk).

Referee: K Morton (Suffolk).

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