Kluivert's power makes 'Incredible' look ordinary

Crystal Palace 0 - Newcastle Utd 2
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The Independent Football

Apparently the Palace players call Iain Dowie, their manager, "Mr Incredible", because of his uncanny likeness to the put-upon superhero of the latest animated blockbuster film.

Apparently the Palace players call Iain Dowie, their manager, "Mr Incredible", because of his uncanny likeness to the put-upon superhero of the latest animated blockbuster film.

Shortly after 4.40pm on Saturday, SE25's own Mr Incredible appeared to be reliving the early frustrations of his film counterpart as he sat trapped behind a table in the press room and reflected upon the defeat which had left his side just a point clear of the relegation places.

"I was disappointed with the performance," he said, grimly. "We didn't play, we didn't want the ball, we didn't pass the ball. We played like we did for the first six or seven games of the season." The suggestion that Palace's lacklustre performances have followed the return of players from international action was one which Dowie took on board. But the harsh fact is that Palace's players are not good enough to drop below their highest standards. Unlike Newcastle, they have no superheroes.

The jaw-dropping feat that tipped this match the visitors' way was performed by Patrick Kluivert, the sumptuously gifted forward who was playing for the Netherlands as a teenager. Kluivert is recovering full fitness after six weeks out with injury. But when Craig Bellamy's race down the right wing caught the Palace defence off-guard 11 minutes from time, it was Kluivert who read the cross correctly, stealing ahead of his previously diligent marker, Fitz Hall, to deflect the ball past the Palace keeper with a reverse flick.

The Toon Army went predictably barmy. Bellamy's riotous shot into the roof of the net after another break, two minutes from time, was no more than a twisting of the knife.

After their inspiring draw at Arsenal at the start of this month, which came on the back of three wins out of four, Palace could see not just survival but respectability glimmering on their horizon. Now, after successive defeats they are contemplating next Saturday's visit to the team one place below them, Southampton, with a knot of anxiety in their collective stomach.

Newcastle's manager Graeme Souness was clearly a relieved man to see his side put an end to a run of four successive defeats. He went out on a limb afterwards by maintaining that Jermaine Jenas, the 21-year-old he had installed as captain in the absence of the injured Alan Shearer, could become "the best central midfield player in Europe".

The England player was certainly the best central midfield player in Selhurst Park on Saturday, but his performance was far from outstanding. Souness, nevertheless, is clearly anxious to keep a young player who he believes can live up to his estimation within the next four years, "providing he does not get too big a head or suffer an injury".

Dowie was asked the standard question of his players: "Any knocks?" He gave his first smile. "No," he said, "only a few bruised egos." The bruises were due to being bumped back down to earth. Palace, for whom Andy Johnson and Wayne Routledge continue to be blazing beacons of hope, can survive the drop. But they are humans who need to become superhumans every week.

Goals: Kluivert (79) 0-1; Bellamy (88) 0-2.

Crystal Palace (4-5-1): Kiraly; Granville, Popovic, Hall, Boyce; Routledge, Watson, Hughes, Riihilahti (Freedman, 83), Kolkka (Lakis, 83); Johnson. Substitutes not used: Speroni (gk), Leigertwood, Andrews.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Hughes, Bramble, Johnsen (Elliott, 55), Bernard; Dyer, Jenas, Bowyer (Milner, 72), Robert; Bellamy, Kluivert. Substitutes not used: Ambrose, Ameobi, Caig (gk).

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).

Booked: Newcastle: Johnsen, Bernard, Elliott.

Man of the match: Riihilahti.

Attendance: 22,937.