Football: Tomasson calls the tune

Crystal Palace 1 Shipperley 67 Newcastle United 2 Ketsbaia 45, Tomasson 63 Attendance: 26,085
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The Independent Online
Kenny Dalglish will still have to strain and focus below those treasured first six places in the Premiership table to find his Newcastle side today, but the indications are that he will soon be looking the title challengers directly in the eye.

Newcastle's involvement and poor form in the European Cup led to them being all but forgotten by the trophy chasing elite. But they no longer have distractions beyond the domestic game and have played three fewer matches than most of teams above them. This was not an outstanding performance, but it did not have to be, and the Geordies are, albeit slowly, on the march again.

It is not often that Selhurst Park can outdo Barcelona's 120,000 capacity Nou Camp stadium for atmosphere, passion, colour and volume of spectators. But it did yesterday and Newcastle must have found it strange that their mid-week Champions' League excursion to Catalonia resembled a low-key reserve match compared to this Premiership encounter.

And Newcastle had more travelling fans in Barcelona too. But those that made the trip south yesterday were rewarded with some genuine competition and a first-half goal to cheer when Temuri Ketsbaia shot them ahead in time added on for injuries in the first half.

Neither side had been able to dominate the game up to then. Palace created good chances for striker Neil Shipperley and Bruce Dyer saw a shot deflected off a post. But the Georgian international Ketsbaia's goal marked the difference in quality that had so far prevented Palace from a home win this season. He looked barely bothered when he received the ball on the edge of the area, but then let loose with a venomous shot which goalkeeper Kevin Miller seemed to know little about.

Palace had already been put at a massive disadvantage when they lost Dyer with an ankle injury after 15 minutes. They suffered another injury blow just three minutes after the break when their key midfielder Andy Roberts limped off. Roberts had started the game despite nursing six stitches in a gashed ankle, but now Newcastle had more reason to believe they had the match sewn up.

But just as Palace looked to be regaining their composure they were hit by more bad luck as the Italian striker Michele Padovano hobbled off to be replaced by a defender, Neil Emblen. The big centre half had to play in midfield, and showed why he was not put into attack with a wayward shot on the hour. Paul Warhurst, another jack of all trades, was guilty of two less acceptable misses soon after.

And how Palace were made to pay when Newcastle scored their second goal in the 63rd minute through Jon Dahl Tomasson. Ketsbaia supplied the pass this time and the Dane let the ball run before driving a low shot in off Miller's outstretched right leg.

Shipperley saved the game from an early death when he scored for Palace four minutes later with a superbly struck low shot.