Newcastle United 1 (1) Fulham 1 (0)
Fulham and Louis Saha disappointed the thousands who had come to revel in the
glory of Alan Shearer but as St James Park emptied last night, the name
of a bit-part player signed on loan by Ruud Gullit for Newcastle United three
years ago when the great man had unaccountably fallen out of favour
was being cursed to the echo. Shearers 200th goal in the Premiership will
have to wait; dreams of Europe must also be put on hold.
An insipid draw was enough to lift Newcastle back above Chelsea, whose head
coach, Claudio Ranieri, was an interested spectator, but against a Fulham side
bereft of form and self-confidence, it did not represent an effective use of
a game in hand. In his 11 matches for Newcastle back in 1999, Louis Saha managed
to score just once on Tyneside and by doubling his tally with a soft late goal,
he shattered a few hearts.
||Fulham striker Louis Saha gets
an important goal for Fulham away at Newcastle
The worth could be incalculable because although the suicidal tendencies of
Derby County and Ipswich Town may yet prove their salvation, this was Fulham
and their manager drawing a line in the sand. Four more points would probably
be enough to stay up, Jean Tigana said, but it all depends on Ipswich.
We have to look after ourselves and we have to keep playing the way we have.
Credit to Tigana: they have never resorted to rudimentary tactics.
Fulham will face Chelsea in the semi-finals of the FA Cup on Sunday in better
fettle than their recent record of two points from a possible 27 would suggest.
It was a result that, at the least, they deserved, but a limited and disappointing
performance from Bobby Robsons players was the memory that lingered. At
the final whistle, a chorus of jeers cut through the air.
That, in spite of the hurt, was inexcusable. We need encouragement,
Robson said. We need the fans to stay with us. People shouldnt forget
how well weve done this season, that we need a team in the stands as well
as on the pitch. My message to the supporters is that weve still got a
Newcastle did not resemble a side that had been pressing for the title, who
are now banking on an appearance in the Champions League. Above all else, they
looked tired. Apart from Shay Given, who saved repeatedly at the feet of Saha,
and Kieron Dyer, who opened the scoring, their players were disengaged and rusty.
Holding off the challenge of Chelsea and Leeds United will take more than they
Were still in pole position, Shearer said, but having left
the starting grid with engines revving, Newcastle stalled with the chequered
flag in sight. A brilliant team would have won that game 1-0, Robson
said, but we conceded poorly, lost the ball consistently and Fulham came
The opening 20 minutes had been the opposite, with Fulham caressing the ball
without much intent and Newcastles pressure undermined by wasted passes.
Dyer cut through the flab, striding on to the ball when a stooping header from
Laurent Robert rebounded off Andy Melville just outside the penalty area and
picking his way through a static defence. His shot was diverted in via the outstretched
leg of Edwin van der Sar.
In the continued absence of Craig Bellamy, Dyers change of pace was a
useful asset and one that Fulham emulated. Saha was used in similar fashion,
frequently being given possession close to the halfway line to run at the centre
halves. Although their hesitancy in front of goal was palpable, the warning
signs were there.
By that stage, fluency had been forsaken. Newcastle had been a sporadic force,
undermined by the low quality of their work on the flanks and their inability
to convert the threat promised by their forwards. Shearer has seldom been starved
of service as much as this.
Given the generosity of their side at the back, the prevailing unease of the
fans was understandable. The calendar year has brought Newcastle just two clean
sheets in league football and the demotion of Nikos Dabizas to the substitutes
spoke volumes about their uncertainty.
The introduction of Jermaine Jenas, a midfield player, for an off-key Carl Cort
was an indication of that. Cort should have scored in the 51st minute when he
met a corner from Nolberto Solano with a firm header that sailed above the crossbar,
and a wicked, trademark shot from Robert took a wild deflection that bamboozled
Van der Sar but bounced wide of the right post.
Once again, Robson was to be thankful for the alert Given, who continued to
ambush Saha inside the area, but Newcastles desperation was increasing.
By contrast, Fulham stuck to their task and although their 76th-minute equaliser
was fortuitous a shot by Sean Davis striking Sahas knee
it was merited. Scoring has been a collective problem for us, but this
was a good point, Tigana said, and very important.
(4-4-2): S Given 8 A Hughes 6, A OBrien 5
(sub: N Dabizas, 90min), S Distin 6, R Elliott 4 N Solano 5, K Dyer 7,
G Speed 6, L Robert 4 A Shearer 5, C Cort 4 (sub: J Jenas, 68 5). Substitutes
not used: S Harper, L Lua-Lua, O Bernard. Booked: Robert.
(4-3-1-2): E van der Sar 6 S Finnan 7, A Melville 7, A Goma
7, R Brevett 6 S Legwinski 5, S Davis 8, J Collins 6 S Malbranque
7 L Saha 8, S Marlet 5. Substitutes not used: M Taylor, J Harley, B Hayles,
L Boa Morte, A Ouaddou.
Referee: A Wiley 6.