Fulham on the rack
Patrick Barclay at Sunday Telegraph
 
   

Fulham (0) 0 Newcastle United (0) 1

Joey Barton's stoppage-time winner from the penalty spot kept Fulham near the bottom of a table Newcastle and their fans need no longer fear perusing. Supposedly on the verge of a crisis when Arsenal arrived on Tyneside 11 days ago, they have remained unbeaten in three matches since, collecting seven points and suggesting that Sam Allardyce's tenure might be considerably longer than the speculators hoped.

How right his opposite number on this occasion, Lawrie Sanchez, was to call betting on which manager would next be sacked "morally questionable". Neither Allardyce nor anyone else should have to put up with such an indictment of contemporary society as people being invited to take a punt on unemployment. But the former Bolton manager can afford to laugh it off now.

Not that he would have much enjoyed this arid match until substitute Mark Viduka nudged the ball on to Alan Smith, who nodded and then toed it just away from the defender, Elliot Omozusi, who, on his 19th birthday, made an injudicious tackle, enabling Smith to fall; Howard Webb pointed to the spot, from where Barton drove his first Newcastle goal. How, for 90 minutes, we had craved something to take our minds off numb fingers.

On a bitterly cold evening by the Thames, it was understandable that the players would want to run about, but too much haste spoiled a lot of the play and it was a rare sustained move that Danny Murphy began by dispossessing Geremi in the early stages. On the ball went by way of Steven Davis and Clint Dempsey to David Healy. Glad to be appearing from the start, the Northern Ireland striker relished an opportunity to test Shay Given with a chip.

Hameur Bouazza, back after missing the 3-0 defeat at Everton the previous weekend, occasionally threatened with curling crosses from the left, but otherwise Fulham struggled to make an impression on a Newcastle rearguard looking, as Allardyce had stressed before the match, for only their second clean sheet of the league season.

Newcastle had more ideas in attack at that stage: not an abundance, but enough to give them a slight edge in the first half. James Milner supplied dash down the left - and the swirling cross from which a barely marked Barton might have headed home. The ball was directed too near Antii Niemi, who dropped slightly to his left to stop it. There was also some clever prompting from the unselfish Smith, who always seemed to know where the speedy Obafemi Martins could be found. But the interval came without a goal, or even a roar full-throated enough to wake the young lady spotted by the television cameras snoozing on her boyfriend's shoulder.

No doubt both managers issued interval pleas for an improvement. Sanchez's received the swifter response. Less than half a minute had gone when Bouazza went between two men and measured a peach of a cross which just eluded the lunging Dempsey. From another ball by Bouazza, Dejan Stefanovic had a header easily saved.

Allardyce sent on Emre for his captain, Geremi - the armband went to Smith - and soon the Turk contrived a touch of unusual quality, sending a free-kick through the home defence for Nicky Butt to head. The former Manchester United midfielder is seldom confused with Alan Shearer and his finish was all too benign towards Niemi.

Matches like this make you wonder why people pay hundreds of millions of pounds a year for the Premier League. There was plenty of effort, but such a dearth of creativity as to make recourse to the bench inevitable. Sanchez threw on Shefki Kuqi for Davis and Allardyce sent on Viduka for Martins, who nearly made the most dramatic entrance; he surely would have scored with his first touch had he been able to reach David Rozehnal's volley across the face of goal from a slanted Milner free-kick. His next intervention proved more fruitful.

Moment of the match: Hameur Bouazza’s beautifully curved cross at the start of the second half; it begged for a touch that Clint Dempsey could not quite apply. Nothing else sticks in the memory.