Maybe Mike Ashley should show up a bit more often? Although on this evidence it is easy to see why he stays away.
On the day that Kevin Keegan revealed he is no longer welcome at St James’ Park after falling out with Newcastle’s widely detested owner, it was just like the Sports Direct chief executive to attend his first game for almost 18 months on a damp and dreary day in south-east London that reflected the levels of entertainment on display.
He was treated to a backs-to-the-wall performance that earned Rafa Benítez’s side their second point of the season but also laid bare the challenge facing their beleaguered manager. Only Mamadou Sakho’s glaring miss late on following a disappointingly flat display from a Crystal Palace side struggling to find their form spared Newcastle from a fifth defeat, with supporters making their displeasure with Ashley known throughout. The club may face sanctions after one fan threw a bottle which hit the Palace defender Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
“If the owner wants to support the team – fine. That is positive,” said Benítez. “Our supporters are quite clever and they know if we are going to be stronger, then we need the fans behind us. That is the best chance for us to stay in the Premier League. Everybody knows what we have and that we will give it everything until the last minute.”
Referring to the bottle thrower, Benítez said: “We had almost 3,000 fans here and one made a mistake. But the rest were fantastic.”
After a week when he was a hot topic of conversation, Wilfried Zaha’s participation had been in doubt before kick-off after he left the warm-up clutching the back of his neck. His emergence from the tunnel was greeted with a collective sigh of relief around Selhurst Park given Palace’s awful record without their talisman – no points from 11 matches stretching back to the start of last season.
Benítez had stirred the pot earlier in the week by expressing his confidence that the referee, Andre Marriner, would “deal with the situation in a normal way” following Zaha’s demands for more protection from officials. The Newcastle manager even suggested the FA should “deal with these comments” and there was no doubting who the pantomime villain was for the travelling supporters, who booed their target at every opportunity in the first half.
But with all the attention on Zaha, Palace should still have been in front at half-time against opponents who showed little interest in attacking despite the presence of their owner in the stands. James McArthur, Jordan Ayew and Cheikhou Kouyaté all had opportunities to score, with Luka Milivojevic’s free-kick – which eluded everyone in the penalty area before bouncing away off a post – the closest they came to breaking the deadlock.
Ayoze Pérez earlier wasted Newcastle’s best chance when he dispossessed James Tomkins midway in Palace’s half but could only shoot straight at Wayne Hennessey. At least they improved slightly after the break, with the substitute Joselu producing an air shot from DeAndre Yedlin’s ball in.
The bottle incident briefly distracted Palace from their task before Sakho somehow contrived to miss an open goal from Townsend’s cross. Zaha, who Roy Hodgson admitted could have been affected by the media attention and his pre-match injury, almost set up McArthur in the dying moments but it was not to be.
“It was a frustrating afternoon because we played well enough to win the game,” said the Palace manager. “It was a good performance from start to finish and we came across a very organised and disciplined Newcastle team.”