Newcastle United kept their automatic promotion aspirations on track with a mid-week 2-0 home victory against troubled Crystal Palace. The win replicated a number of Newcastle victories this season – not playing particularly well yet stealing all three points. At times against Palace they were second best and looked strides from a side that are top of the table. Despite entering administration and only being able to name three substitutes Palace gave a good account of themselves and had chances to get something out of the game. Compared to the Eagles’ current problems a few injuries and an unpopular owner for Newcastle are not a massive problem.
Newcastle have had a successful week in the transfer market with the permanent signings of Portsmouth’s Mike Williamson and QPR’s Wayne Routledge. Both signings came as something as a surprise to many Newcastle fans. There were a number of complications surrounding Williamson’s current situation at cash-strapped Portsmouth, who look like making a loss on a player they signed for around £2 million. Williamson immediately slotted into the centre of the Newcastle defence and made a solid debut. The tall defender won most of his aerial duels and did not appear ruffled by the physical challenges. With doubts over the length of Steven Taylor’s absence through a knee injury Williamson could prove to be a key player in the coming months.
Routledge did not appear until the second half but he like Williamson made a good introduction to the Geordie faithful. The quick paced winger’s move appeared to come out of the blue as he seemed more likely to be heading to another north east side – Middlesbrough. But when Newcastle came in with a late offer Routledge had few queries in heading a few more miles north. Routledge played as a second striker and later in his normal wide role against his former club and showed a few glimpses of quality. He was not afraid to run at defenders and set up Nile Ranger’s late goal with a good through ball. With Jonas Gutierrez and Routledge in the side Newcastle now possess good options down both flanks. Traditionally this season most of their attacks have come down the left flank with Jonas and Jose Enrique combining to good effect. Down the right hand side where Danny Guthrie has mainly been employed there has been few attacking outlets as Guthrie prefers to tuck inside and help out in centre midfield. Fabrice Pancrate was originally signed to play down the right but he is yet to convince in a black and white shirt. What the two signings have shown is that Mike Ashley is prepared to make more funds available to strengthen his side’s promotion aims.
Newcastle suffered a blow early in the first half when left back Jose Enrique hobbled out of the action with a hamstring injury. Manager Chris Hughton will be sweating on the extent of the injury as Enrique has been outstanding in the past few weeks. His early withdrawal meant a lot of reshuffling in the Newcastle defence with Tamas Kadar moving from right to left back and Pancrate brought on to endure a far from convincing right back shift. If Enrique is ruled out for a few weeks then options in that area are quite short with Kadar and Ryan Taylor able to stand-in if needed while untried youngster Ben Tozer is a more natural left back. The absence of Enrique against Palace was very telling going forward as they missed the Spaniard’s marauding runs forward past Gutierrez. Chris Hughton said: “It is a concern for us at the moment. Jose has felt his hamstring and we’re hoping the fact he came off straight away rather, than make it any worse, will have helped. We won’t know until the morning how serious it is.”
Newcastle’s next game is on Saturday away to promotion contenders Leicester City who currently lie eighth in the table just three points from the play-off places. The Magpies have managed to maintain the gap of three points between them and chasers Nottingham Forest. The Magpies also have a game in hand and have extended their lead over third placed West Brom to eight points. The Foxes’ form is not great of late with three consecutive defeats but they gave Newcastle a tough game earlier in the season so weary eyes will be taken to the game.