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Newcastle 1-0 Crystal Palace: Mikel Merino wins Magpies three points in physical game between two sides lacking striking options

Both Newcastle and Crystal Palace have issues when it comes to the forward position, with the latter fielding a team void of strikers at St. James’ Park, but a late Mikel Merino goal proved enough.

The Spanish U21s midfielder found the net with a header on 86 minutes from a Matt Ritchie corner.

The ball was floated in and Palace midfielder James McArthur headed the ball up against Merino’s head, which in turn directed the ball over the flailing arm of Julian Speroni.

It would prove to be the match-winning goal in a game void of many chances on goal – both Rob Elliot and Speroni spent much of the game as mere spectators.

Merino’s goal was also in some respects a benefit to both Crystal Palace and definitely to referee Stuart Attwell, in that it detracted from the first half’s moment of controversy.

After Wilfried Zaha dived in the box – he was later booked for it – the ball broke out to DeAndre Yedlin in a wide defensive position.

Next thing anyone knew an entirely out-of-control Yohan Cabaye came flying into the American at speed with a horrific scissors tackle.

It was dangerous, it was reckless and it was definitely uncontrolled. Any of those three are enough to merit a red card; all three together, well surely the Frenchman had to walk.

At least, that is unless you’re the aforementioned Stuart Attwell, who deemed the former Newcastle man’s tackle only worthy of a yellow card.

How he came to that decision entirely eludes me. There was no doubt, neither watching the challenge initially in normal speed or viewing the slowed down replays that it wasn’t a sending off.

To be honest, in normal speed, it looked even worse, as it appeared far more vicious and out of control than it maybe was – even though it was significantly both of those.

Yet the referee appeared to bottle the decision, much to the bemusement of an incense 52,000 crowd inside St. James’ Park – especially given that he was far from shy of bringing out a card during the match.

What annoys me most about the situation, though, is that it seems the referee must have taken Cabaye’s immediate hands-up apology into account in his decision to only caution the player with a yellow card.

If so, that is ridiculous. You can’t assault someone in the street, then simply hold up your hands in apology, and get away with a lighter sentence.

Nor should it be here. Had it been Jonjo Shelvey or Aleksandar Mitrovic who had made that tackle you know the red card would have been out of the ref’s pocket before contact was even made.

It reminds me too much of the opening day tackle by Harry Kane on Florian Lejeune, though even worse in this instance.

It’s a disgraceful bit of referee and a serious injustice done to Newcastle, but one that will be brushed under the rug because the Magpies came out with three points. It shouldn’t be, and refereeing standards should be reviewed for situations like those, but it will be.

Aside from that controversy and the 86th minute winner from Merino the game offered very little, especially from a black and white perspective.

Fans can take joy in the fact that Florian Lejeune looked comfortable and assured in defence again – looking like his early season injury hasn’t affected his quality too much – and he also showed some good physically in shrugging off Palace attackers and impressive awareness to read the play.

It’s pleasing to know that we have some quality depth in a position for once, with Ciaran Clark, Jamaal Lascelles and Lejeune all looking like highly competent centre backs.

Aside from that, though, it was very clear this was a competition between two sides lacking depth or quality in an attacking, striker role.

Crystal Palace opted not to field a striker, playing two wide men up front, while Newcastle had the choice between Joselu and Mitrovic – Dwight Gayle was injured, not that he offers anything more for the Magpies.

None of those players are guaranteed, roaming goalscorers and that it what Newcastle need. There was a number of times, even in a game like today’s when those in black and white looked a little of the pace, where some really impressive buildup play occurred, but there just isn’t an end product to take that and then put it in the net.

Newcastle are crying out for a new Alan Shearer – even if they’re not as prolific as the much-loved Geordie legend is – and if we do ever get one the team Rafa Benitez has assembled could be a seriously scary prospect.

One can only hope in the near future the takeover rumours and news materialise into something concrete and the club gets the investment it needs to make that dream a reality.

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