Mikel Merino capped an encouraging week for Rafael Benitez as the Newcastle midfielder’s late goal clinched a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace on Saturday.
After 10 troubled years in charge, Newcastle owner Mike Ashley put the club up for sale this week.
Ashley never won over Newcastle’s long-suffering fans and his announcement was greeted with relief on Tyneside, while Benitez would have taken heart from the news after bemoaning the lack of backing he received in the transfer market.
Thanks to the dramatic contribution from Merino at St James’ Park, Benitez’s side ended a three-match winless run and climbed to sixth place as they look optimistically towards the post-Ashley era.
Having endured the worst ever start to an English top-flight season, Palace finally ended their seven-match losing streak with a shock 2-1 victory over Chelsea last weekend.
But an eighth defeat in their nine league games this season leaves Roy Hodgson’s men bottom of the table and five points from safety.
Yohan Cabaye was fortunate to escape with an early yellow card for an ugly scissor-tackle on DeAndre Yedlin that left the Newcastle defender writhing on the turf while his teammates rushed over to remonstrate with the Palace midfielder.
Newcastle’s Christian Atsu came close to exacting retribution for Cabaye’s offence when he blasted into the side-netting after pushing Joel Ward off the ball.
It took Newcastle 72 minutes to have a shot on target through Mohamed Diame’s hopeful effort.
But Julian Speroni had to save well from Newcastle’s Jonjo Shelvey moments later and the hosts’ late pressure was rewarded in the 86th minute.
Matt Ritchie curled over the corner and Merino brought Benitez to his feet as he rose highest to head home.