THE wait goes on. Newcastle United still haven’t secured their Premier League safety, Rafael Benitez still hasn’t agreed to remain as manager and Mike Ashley still hasn’t spelled out whether he is willing to accede to the Spaniard’s demands. As they prepare to enter the final month of the season, the Magpies are living in limbo.

The big questions cannot be answered until safety is assured, and that scenario remains at least three points off after DeAndre Yedlin’s defensive lapse ended Newcastle’s five-game St James’ Park winning run and instead condemned them to a ninth home defeat of the season. Palace move to 39 points and can prepare for another season in the top-flight; Newcastle remain on 35 and are effectively treading water ahead of their Friday-night trip to Leicester City.

Relegation is still extremely unlikely, although the picture will shift somewhat if Newcastle lose at the King Power Stadium and Cardiff City, who have a game in hand, win at Burnley on Saturday afternoon. That would certainly get the nerves jangling.

A more likely scenario is that survival is guaranteed in the next couple of weeks, but until then, the Magpies will limp along providing more questions than answers. Benitez’s future is obviously the most pressing issue, but while the Newcastle boss went further than he has for a number of weeks in his pre-match press conference on Friday, claiming he has held discussions with Lee Charnley and that the “ball is now in their (Charnley and Mike Ashley) court”, the reality is that nothing will be resolved until Newcastle’s fate is sealed.

Benitez will not sign a long-term deal with a club that could yet end up in the Championship; Ashley will not commit to cast-iron spending plans when next season’s income stream is not guaranteed. So the elaborate courtship dance goes on.

“We could be talking (about the contract) because we are safe,” said Benitez, in the wake of his side’s defeat. “But now we have to carry on and think every game is another final. I don’t want to talk about my contract. The situation is the same as yesterday.”

So instead, the Newcastle boss was forced to reflect on a game that summed up where Newcastle currently find themselves – locked within a group of closely-matched clubs in the bottom half of the table, whose matches tend to be settled by the smallest of margins.

On another day, the Magpies could easily have won this. They dominated possession for long spells, spent most of the first half in particular camped in the Palace half, and carved out a succession of reasonable opportunities.

None were gilt-edged, but at least one should really have been taken, with Salomon Rondon, whose future beyond the end of the season is another of the issues that is currently up in the air, responsible for the most profligate misses.

Newcastle’s leading scorer had strayed into an offside position when he guided home Matt Ritchie’s early header across the face of the area, and while he did well to create space in the box shortly after the half-hour mark, his subsequent shot fizzed straight at Palace goalkeeper Vicente Guaita.

In between times, he wasted his side’s best chance of the game as he peeled off to the back post to meet Yedlin’s cross, only to direct a header well over the crossbar.

That meant Crystal Palace remained in the game, indeed the visitors thought they had taken the lead shortly before the break. James Tomkins swept home Luka Milivojevic’s corner, but the goal was rightly chalked off as James McArthur was blocking Martin Dubravka’s view from an offside position.

Dubravka did not have to make a save until the 80th minute, but Palace’s only shot on target proved decisive. It came from the penalty spot, with Yedlin sweeping Wilfried Zaha’s legs from under him as he checked back in the box, enabling Milivojevic, the Premier League’s spot-kick specialist, to convert his tenth successful penalty of the season.

Newcastle contained Zaha’s attacking threat reasonably well for the majority of the afternoon, but in a game in which no one really stood out, it was hardly a coincidence that the most talented player on the pitch produced a moment of individual flair to settle things. As Benitez would no doubt point out, that is what happens when you have a £50m playmaker in your ranks.

“They (Palace) have won seven games away from home and only four at home,” said the Magpies manager. “So we knew it could be like that. We were controlling everything for 80 minutes, but we knew one mistake could be a problem and we could not avoid it, even though we had four defenders around.

“We had been working so much in the week on this game and how to manage these types of situations. What I say is we made a mistake and we should have avoided it. We had coped with it before for 80 minutes, but you have to manage a game for 90 minutes.”

If anything, Benitez was even more annoyed with Newcastle’s reaction to falling behind. Whereas they had been neat and organised in the previous 80 minutes, they became ragged and disjointed in the final ten.

The introduction of Jonjo Shelvey did nothing to change things – the England international’s stock has plummeted dramatically this season - and while there is nothing wrong with a team wanting to chase the game once they have fallen behind, Benitez is a manager who demands that his players do so in a disciplined fashion. Instead, Newcastle’s desperation to get back on level terms merely resulted in them playing into Palace’s hands.

“We were fine for a while, but when something goes wrong, we have to have more experience and manage it better,” said Benitez. “When you play in a hurry, you do things quicker and you make mistakes.

“I cannot be disappointed with one mistake, I am disappointed with too many things that we didn’t do well, especially after conceding the goal. During the game, we were attacking, but we could have been more clinical or made better decisions in the final third. But that is something that we have seen during the whole season.

“When we concede a goal, we have to manage the minutes after that much better. We were clearing the ball in a rush and making the wrong decisions. Even doing the right things, we might not have scored a goal and got a point, but at least you have to do the right things. Not play under pressure.”