Fulham in dismal effort
Paul Wilson at The Observer
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Newcastle 2-0 Fulham

There is no better time than Easter for a messiah to achieve the miraculous, and Kevin Keegan duly supervised his first win in 10 attempts in the league since returning to Newcastle.

The points will come in extremely useful and should stop the immediate speculation surrounding Keegan's job, yet this was far from the thrill-fest Newcastle fans must have been hoping for when their favourite son was reinstalled and it is debatable whether beating a team as limp as Fulham actually counts as a miracle in any case.

It might have to be referred to a small-claims tribunal, who would likely downgrade it to a mild surprise. With Spurs away next it could be a while before Keegan is walking on water, though confidence may not have survived a bad result here and it may prove some sort of turning point.

'We could have made it easier for ourselves, we had chances to turn round two or three goals up,' Keegan said. 'The important thing is that we stuck together and stuck to a plan. And that we won. It took a while longer than I thought it would, maybe than anyone thought it would, but this will give everyone around the club a boost. By recent standards we've had a great week, but this has not been a normal season.'

Keegan was so impressed with the second-half display that earned a point at Birmingham last Monday he named an unchanged team, in a typically positive 4-3-3 formation that includes all three of his main strikers at the front. He argues it is actually one man on his own up front and two other strikers in close support, with Mark Viduka supposed to be the notional front man, though every time Newcastle had the ball the front three looked pretty much interchangeable.

No one was complaining, however, for within six minutes Viduka had his first goal since December and Newcastle a precious lead. The last time they had one of those they promptly shipped four goals at Aston Villa, but no matter, when you have not won a game for three months an early goal is definitely to be celebrated.

It was all so easy, too. Geremi took Nicky Butt's pass on the right and returned the ball to Viduka in the middle, where the striker was able to make space for himself on the edge of the penalty area before stroking a low shot into Kasey Keller's bottom-right corner.

It was tempting to wonder why Newcastle have not been doing that every week, except the obvious answer would be that they haven't been playing Fulham every week. For a team supposedly fighting for survival, who have taken points from Blackburn and Everton in recent weeks, it was a dismal start.

Viduka is not exactly the quickest player or tightest turner, yet Fulham's defenders stood off admiringly. Roy Hodgson had been out on the pitch chatting convivially with Keegan before kick-off and his players seemed prepared to be just as friendly and accommodating.

Midway through the first half, just after Eddie Johnson had failed to get a header on target from a rare Fulham attack, Obafemi Martins was allowed a second chance on the break when a poor touch should have surrendered possession.

Even Fulham must have heard about the danger Martins poses, yet once again he was given time to get his shot in and Keller was required to make a diving save. Newcastle could have scored more before the interval, had Danny Murphy not managed to clear Michael Owen's header off the line or had anyone been available to take advantage when Abdoulaye Faye's overhead kick ran across the face of an unguarded goal.

Perhaps less forgiveable was Owen's failure to convert a clear chance after Geremi's cross from the right gave him a free header in front of goal, particularly as, by the end of the first half, Murphy and Jimmy Bullard were beginning to get a grip of midfield. Unfortunately, both Fulham's clear shooting chances fell to Bullard as well, and while he brought a save from Steve Harper with the first he threatened only the corner flag with his second.

Bullard opened the second half with a shot that flew too high, just for good measure, as Newcastle set about defending their lead by falling back behind the half way line. This seemed a risky strategy, but, on the other hand, Fulham did not possess the sort of attack to put them properly to the test. 'We are struggling for confidence as well as points,' Hodgson glumly admitted. 'Other results didn't go too badly for us, we've just got to keep playing.'

Playing for 90 minutes would help, as would not turning into wimps when faced by a wind (Hodgson offered the excuse that the breeze made the second half difficult). Murphy went off 20 minutes from the end and Bullard gradually ran out of steam.

So did everyone else. Martins had a goal disallowed for offside after Keller did well to save from the already offside Viduka, and Owen did his best to carve himself a shooting chance, only to be foiled by a well-timed, last-ditch intervention from Paul Stalteri.

Just when it appeared the game was going to peter out, Geremi sent a free-kick into the penalty area and Owen met it with his head to beat Keller from close range. An unloseable two-goal lead. Heaven. 'There's only one Kevin Keegan,' the most easily pleased supporters in the world chanted loyally. 'We're walking in a Keegan wonderland.'

Walking is about right.

Man of the match: Jimmy Bullard
Seemed to be the only Fulham player interested half the time, and was the only visitor who came anywhere near scoring. Perhaps not a vintage display, but this was the ground where he sustained the injury that threatened his career and it was good to see him running about as of old.

Steve Harper, Habib Beye (David Edgar), Jose Sanchez Enrique, Steven Taylor, Joey Barton, Nicky Butt, Abdoulaye Diagne-Faye, Njitap Geremi, Obafemi Martins (Charles N'Zogbia), Michael Owen, Mark Viduka (Alan Smith)

Kasey Keller, Leon Andreasen, Brede Hangeland, Aaron Hughes, Paul Konchesky, Paul Stalteri (David Healy), Jimmy Bullard, Simon Davies, Danny Murphy (Moritz Volz), Eddie Johnson, Brian McBride (Clint Dempsey)

Referee: Wiley, A

Attendance: 52,293