Newcastle on course for dream end to season with statement January transfer

Newcastle on course for dream end to season with statement January transfer

Updated: 10 days, 29 minutes, 57 seconds ago

CRYSTAL PALACE 0-0 NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe's side were held to a goalless draw at Selhurst Park but did enough to leapfrog Manchester United into third place in the table

Night fell on south London's hinterlands, but the dark side of the Toon stayed in the shadows.

Snooty metropolitan elites complain that Crystal Palace is the most impenetrable away game on the Premier League roster because there is no such thing as a quick getaway from the traffic thrombosis in Croydon's suburban jungle. But a trip to Selhurst Park has become a litmus test for clubs like Newcastle United trying to force the lock on the treasure chest of Champions League loot.

Eddie Howe's side were accused of resorting to cheap shots and tricks from the spoilers' playbook when they beat Fulham seven days ago. And they will need more substance than scuffing up the penalty spot or transparent gamesmanship to sustain their challenge for a place at Europe's top table.

Perhaps they let the cat out of the bag with the message on a banner fans unfurled at the Leazes end against Fulham: “We're not here to be popular, we're here to compete.” But here was an ideal platform for the Magpies to prove there is more to their manifesto than sharp practice - no tricks, no skulduggery, no Ant-and-Dec horseplay.

They passed the fair-play test comfortably, but this was two points dropped on the road to Damascus. Newcastle are much more enjoyable to watch when they stick to the purists' manual because Howe is close to unlocking their thrilling potential.

It is easy to sneer that Saudi ownership, and the bottomless pit of spending money at Howe's disposal, is the driving force behind the upward curve on Tyneside. But the front four on parade in this corner pocket of Croydon were part of the unlamented Steve Bruce regime – in fact Callum Wilson, Joelinton and Joe Willock were all signed on Bruce's watch.

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MICAH CROOK/PPAUK/REX/Shutterstock)

MICAH CROOK/PPAUK/REX/Shutterstock)

Maybe Howe's predecessor was like Eric Morecambe's piano soloist in that famous sketch with the London Symphony Orchestra: He was playing all the right players, but not necessarily in the right order.

It's just a thought, but if Newcastle think big in the last 10 days of the transfer window, and make a 'statement' signing, they may not just be looking at a top-four finish – which would be a fine achievement in its own right.

If Arsenal hit a rocky patch, the title itself could be there for the taking, which would be absolutely mind-blowing. And why shouldn't the Geordie nation dare to dream?

Can Newcastle mount a title challenge? Have your say in the comments below.

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Getty Images)

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Howe is presiding over the best defensive record in the top flight – just 11 goals conceded (and only seven from open play) with 12 clean sheets. They are so well-drilled that the last time Newcastle suffered the ignominy of England keeper Nick Pope picking one out of his net in the Premier League was back on November 6.

One inspired signing up front, one flicker of genius in the market, could take the Toon to places they never dreamed of reaching this season – including the mountain summit. They won't need dark arts to get there. Just a little more cutting edge in the final third, more incisiveness in the 18-yard box, more end product.

Joelinton, Miguel Almiron, Sven Botman and sub Alexander Isak all had chances to turn the Toon's superiority into a comfortable win. With Harry Kane, Kylian Mbappe or Marcus Rashford on the end of them – and Newcastle could afford all three – they would be dreaming the impossible dream.

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Getty Images)

Getty Images)

In the end, they were grateful to Pope for an outstanding save to deny Jean-Philippe Mateta and keep that 12th clean sheet intact. Palace we can deal with in short measure: They are nobody's patsies.

Yes, Selhurst needs an urgent upgrade, a lick of paint and views unimpeded by pillars, but – as the saying almost goes - if you can't do the grime, don't do the time.

Marc Guehi was outstanding, keeping Wilson on a short leash and never yielding an inch. And, happily, all dark arts were confined to the south London gloom.