Fulham fail to get any points
Brian Glanville at Sunday Times
  The Times Logo  

Fulham 0 Newcastle 1

This dull and dismal game was stuttering to an appropriately goalless conclusion when a clumsy rather than malicious tackle by the young Fulham right-back Elliott Omozusi on Newcastle’s Alan Smith, just before James Milner’s shot was held by Antti Niemi, produced a penalty. Joey Barton, who had been in confident and effective form all evening, calmly put it away and Newcastle not only had their first away victory of the season (”Our Achilles heel”, said manager Sam Allardyce) but as he also pointed out, they had kept a clean sheet for the first time in their away matches.

Even the Fulham manager, Lawrie Sanchez conceded that it should have been a penalty. “But I think he [Smith] passed it before contact was made.”

Allardyce also felt that the penalty had to be given: “A challenge which completely missed the ball and took the man down.” He praised the fervent support of the 5,000 Newcastle fans behind the goal where the winner would be scored.

“Today,” he said, “maybe we didn’t deserve to win. They certainly didn’t.” Somewhat surprisingly, Sanchez said: “I felt there was only one team in it in the second half. The first half was a dead half. The second came to life a bit. With five minutes to go, I was disappointed we were only going to get a point. Ultimately we were cruelly beaten . . . we are fighting for our lives. I think that’s the word, isn’t it?”

If Fulham continue to play like this, it probably is. They did sporadically make chances, then so did Newcastle, for whom James Milner, on the left flank, at least proclaimed his quality. Well-balanced, elusive, curling in menacing crosses, he really suggested claims for a place in the England attack.

Newcastle’s attacking play would eventually improve when they brought the Turkey international Emre into their central mid-field after 58 minutes. When he was fouled after 65 minutes, he took the free kick himself, driving it into the Fulham box, where Nicky Butt tested Niemi with an enterprising header.

The great disappointment in the Newcastle attack was Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins, such a gifted player, but so ineffectual last night, and eventually to be replaced after 76 minutes by Australian Mark Viduka.

Newcastle owed a debt to the resilient goalkeeping of Shay Given. He was already in action in the 11th minute when Fulham mounted one of their few coherent attacks of the first half. Clint Dempsey, at the second attempt, got the ball out to David Healy, who has done so much so well for Northern Ireland, partly under the management of Sanchez. Last night he started a game rather than beginning it, as he tends to, on the bench and his shot from the right was tipped away for a corner by the alert Given. Three minutes later, Butt found Milner on the left, he in turn eluded his man, and crossed accurately enabling Barton to get in a header Niemi desperately blocked, the ball then being scrambled away. On 57 minutes, when a header by Steven Davis was missed by the Newcastle defence, Healy got in for his second accurate shot of the game, but Given saved that one too.

At the other end, Butt made contact with a free kick but his header was competently taken by Niemi. And at the other end, a hooked shot by Danny Murphy was held by the resourceful Given. When Milner put in a free kick from the left, Butt’s attempt went only just wide. Further evidence perhaps that Fulham had hardly dominated this second half. There was more on 85 minutes when a long drive from Barton was held by Niemi.

That seemed to be that, but then came that late, late penalty and victory for Newcastle. Sanchez said with melancholy that this was the story of Fulham’s season. “Myself and my team,” he said unarguably, “have got to prove we’re good enough.” There was in fact alarmingly little to admire in the Fulham team apart from the resourceful display of Niemi.

As for Allardyce, he said emphatically: “The results will get better as the confidence gets higher.” He had special praise for Barton, not least the cool manner in which he put away the decisive and unexpected penalty. “Strength of character,” he said, “strength of mind. Nothing fazes him too much.”

Newcastle have turned the corner, though you would hardly have thought it during the early minutes of the first half when they, like Fulham, were ineptly slicing and swinging at the ball, with the Fulham defence looking all too likely to concede at any moment.

Fulham: Niemi 7, Omozusi 6, Hughes 6, Stefanovic 6, Bocanegra 6, Davies 6, Murphy 6, Davis 6 (Kuqi 75min), Bouazza 6, Healy 6, Dempsey 6

Newcastle: Given 7, N’Zogbia 6, Rozehnal 6, Cacapa 6, Beye 6, Geremi 6 (Emre 59min, 7), Butt 6, Barton 7, Milner 7, Smith 6, Martins 5 (Viduka 77min) Star man: James Milner (Newcastle)

Scorer: Newcastle: Barton 90 pen