Palace's battlers fall back into drop zone

Newcastle United 0 - Crystal Palace 0
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The Independent Football

Crystal Palace managed to withstand a flood of Newcastle possession without a breach in their manful defences, but their point was not enough to keep their heads above the water of the relegation zone. They are now once again immersed within it due to the slender superiority of Southampton's goal difference.

Crystal Palace managed to withstand a flood of Newcastle possession without a breach in their manful defences, but their point was not enough to keep their heads above the water of the relegation zone. They are now once again immersed within it due to the slender superiority of Southampton's goal difference.

An extraordinary defensive header from Gonzalo Sorondo, a remarkable long-legged stretch from Fitz Hall, plus Tony Popovic's untidy persistence, kept a youthful Newcastle team at bay, although the home side's failure to turn their eye-pleasing approach work into goals caused a chorus of disappointment on the final whistle.

Newcastle have now taken just two points from their last 18 - relegation form - while Palace, despite their slip into treacherous water, took comfort from securing their fourth point of the week after their defeat of Liverpool.

"We defended with great tenacity and drive," said the Palace manager, Iain Dowie. "Taking four points from the Champions' League semi-finalists and a club like this that can bring on how many millions of talent in Patrick Kluivert and Laurent Robert is very good."

Next week's encounter with Southampton now appears pivotal to Palace's season. "These are difficult times," said Dowie. "It's about results and they've had a good result. Selhurst Park will be bouncing next week for sure."

St James' Park yesterday was far from bouncing as Newcastle had more established talent on the bench than they did in their unfamiliar starting line-up. But Charles N'Zogbia, James Milner and Darren Ambrose were all prominent as Newcastle's attractive approach play, with the ball snappily passed along the floor, fashioned early chances. The best came in the third minute but Alan Shearer, playing his 500th League game, and his 10th since his last goal, could only bury it in the billowing grey trousers of Gabor Kiraly's pyjamas.

Popovic ended Shola Ameobi's long-legged ambitions in the 21st minute with a crucial challenge and, as Newcastle grew agitated, Sorondo's brilliant stooping header stole a certain goal from Milner's brow just before half-time.

As an attacking force, Palace were unseen for the entire first half. Their lone striker Andrew Johnson - whom the Newcastle manager, Graeme Souness, would like to bring to Tyneside once he has unloaded the troublesome duo on his bench - was muscularly dealt with by Jean-Alain Boumsong. But within four minutes of the second half, Palace had registered their first proper opening - and what an opening it was. Popovic reached Michael Hughes' free-kick first but tamely headed the ball into the ground so it bounced gently into Shay Given's gloves.

Newcastle's youngsters continued to promise without end result and Amdy Faye lofted a delightful ball towards Shearer but an extraordinary stretch from Hall took the danger away. When, in the 65th minute, Johnson eluded Boumsong to win his side's first corner, Souness was concerned enough to unleash the talent from his bench. Robert emerged to warm applause while cool indifference greeted the arrival of Kluivert.

Robert's first involvement was to line up an extravagant 40-yard free-kick as a pigeon settled behind Palace's wall. It was not bothered by the free-kick, which bounced harmlessly off a defender.

The game ended in a flurry of green paper aeroplanes as dejected Newcastle fans turned a Pepperami promotional flyer into an origami object of derision. Despite a performance of a little promise, their team has now failed to score in 243 minutes.

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