Kluivert's touch of class brings upstarts to heel

Crystal Palace 0 Newcastle United 2
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The Independent Football

Patrick Kluivert remembered his pedigree just in time to set up a victory which halted Newcastle's run of four straight losses. His audaciously back-heeled goal with 11 minutes left of a dire contest was his first in eight matches and only his third of the season, but it provided such a timely boost to morale that the excellent Craig Bellamy, a pest to opposition and officials alike, rammed in a second in the final minutes.

Patrick Kluivert remembered his pedigree just in time to set up a victory which halted Newcastle's run of four straight losses. His audaciously back-heeled goal with 11 minutes left of a dire contest was his first in eight matches and only his third of the season, but it provided such a timely boost to morale that the excellent Craig Bellamy, a pest to opposition and officials alike, rammed in a second in the final minutes.

All this was achieved without Alan Shearer, missing for the first time this season because of a damaged thigh. This forced a central partnership of Kluivert and Bellamy on their manager, Graeme Souness, as well as the return of Kieron Dyer to the right side of midfield in place of Nicky Butt.

Souness observed that "we were on the front foot for most of the game". The trouble was that most of the feet were incorrectly employed, with not even the slippery turf providing an excuse for much of the misdirected passing by both sides. Thanks to their greater flair and authority in midfield, Newcastle always looked the likelier to collect full points, and Jermaine Jenas, made captain in place of the absent Shearer, came in for special praise from his manager. "He has the potential to be the best midfield player in Europe," said Souness. "Better even than Steven Gerrard and Patrick Vieira. He has got everything. He is a level-headed young man." Yet not even Jenas's excellence and the dogged contribution of Lee Bowyer, could conjure a goal in the opening half, or for most of the second. The fault for this lay mainly with Kluivert, half-paced and uninvolved, who spurned whatever came his way, most notably blazing over from inside the box when a Bellamy cross came straight to him.

Palace were over-reliant on the surging runs of Andy Johnson, and though his pace managed to get three slow-tackling opponents, Ronny Johnsen, Olivier Bernard and Robbie Elliott, booked for fouls on him, the home side only fashioned one clear chance, just before the interval. Shay Given made a fine, thrusting save and the shot, inevitably, was Johnson's.

Having lobbed on to the roof of the net in the opening half, Bellamy became more threatening as the game wore on as he managed to shake off the close attentions of Aki Riihilahti. Gabor Kiraly made one excellent save and Fitz Hall did well to block another which looked goalbound.

The introduction of James Milner in place of Bowyer was the substitution which undermined Palace. Milner got away down the right and from the byline crossed low for Kluivert to execute a dainty back-heel that flummoxed Kiraly and found the far corner of the net.

Laurent Robert, gloved against the chill, then showed his skills at set pieces by slamming a free-kick onto the crossbar and then the Frenchman, who also drew praise from Souness for his excellence in the final third, crossed from the left for Bellamy to drive high into the net.

While bemoaning the lacklustre showing of his team, Palace manager Iain Dowie complained that midweek internationals had sapped his players' desire. But he spoke the truth when he acknowledged that "it wasn't a great spectacle". As for Souness, clearly delighted to get back on the winning trail, there was even praise for absent friends. "Alan Shearer is the best striker you English have ever had," he said, and pledged to try to stop his prize asset retiring at the end of the season.

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