SUPERSUB Mikel Merino sent Newcastle up to sixth with a late headed winner against Crystal Palace.
In a largely forgettable game, the Spaniard came off the bench and nodded in Matt Ritchie’s corner four minutes from time.
And that was enough to see Rafa Benitez’s boys climb three places in the table, in what is now their best Premier League start after nine games in since 2011-12, when they finished fifth.
The talk in the build-up had been all about Mike Ashley looking to sell the Toon and a potential takeover by Amanda Staveley.
But the financier, who runs the multi-billion investment fund PCP Capital Partners, was not at St James’ Park.
There were, though, some notable names in the stands, with England boss Gareth Southgate taking up a seat behind Geordie legends Sting and Jimmy Nail.
Unfortunately, there was little action for the trio to get excited about in the first half.
In fact, the biggest talking point was a scissor tackle by Yohan Cabaye on DeAndre Yedlin, which saw the ex-Newcastle midfielder escape with a yellow card, when fans thought he should have seen red.
In the first half, Christian Atsu had one powerful run and shot into the side netting.
While at the other end Wilfried Zaha headed wide from inside the six-yard box after Andros Townsend’s cross.
After the break, Townsend curled just over from 15 yards but chances remained few and far between.
Yet the first time either keep had to make a save was Julian Speroni in the 72nd minute, from a weak long-range effort from Toon sub Mo Diame.
Speroni had to be alert again soon after to keep out Jonjo Shelvey’s swerving 20-yard drive.
Palace sub Ruben Loftus-Cheek then hit a cross-shot, which Patrick van Aanholt narrowly failed to slide in and slot home.
And the visitors were left to rue that miss as Merino sent the Toon Army wild.
INTERACTIVE STATS – CLICK on the categories to find out how the teams fared
INTERACTIVE LINE-UPS– CLICK on a player’s number below to see their stats
FACTS, STATS, GOALS & LOLS
- Neither Newcastle or Crystal Palace recorded a shot on target in the first half.
- The Magpies have scored in 12 of their previous 13 Premier League fixtures against the Eagles – the last time they failed to score was a 0-0 draw back in April 2005.
- Rafa Bentiez’s men have only lost one out of their last ten top-flight matches at St James’ Park.
- The Spanish manager has never tasted defeat at home against a manager who has been head coach on the England national side.
- Sine the start of last campaign, no player has been directly involved in more goals for Palace in the Premier League than winger Wilfried Zaha.
- It took until the 73rd minute for there to be the first shot on target – Mohamed Diame forced Julian Speroni into a comfortable save.
- Roy Hodgson has only won four out of his ten league matches at St James’ Park – drawing two and losing on four occasions.
WHAT THEY SAID
Newcastle goalscorer Mikel Merino said: “It’s great the winning feeling so I’m really happy for the result and my first goal. The most important thing is the three points.
“This is a really hard team to play. They are really compact and strong. We did a great effort physically, but in the second half we had more of the ball. At the end, from a set piece, we have our three points.”
Magpies boss Rafa Benitez told Match of the Day: “It is important now to get three points in a difficult game. The had confidence and were working hard.
“It is another step forward. We thought that we had to win this game, and they had confidence and were ell organised, so we knew it could be tough.
“The main thing is we keep pushing and winning games.”
Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson said: “There were some very good performances from us in particular. The quality of our play was very good.
“We need more than a goal to take one point and set plays are always a problem. It was unfortunate as our player got his head to the ball but headed it against the Newcastle bloke.
“I cannot criticise our performance. From the first minute to the last it was everything I expected and under normal circumstances would have got us a result.”