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Fulham 1-0 Newcastle Cham 01 1617 - The Guardian

last updated Tuesday 09th August 2016, 11:48 AM

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David Hytner at The Guardian

Fulham (1) 1-0 (0) Newcastle

The eyes of the world were glued to the greatest sporting event of them all and the carnival atmosphere pulsed. Welcome back, English football, you have been missed.

This was the night when Rafael Benítez and Newcastle United were supposed to flex their muscles and show their Championship-winning intent.

Instead, it was one in which they endured what the manager described as a “wake-up call”.

Newcastle were second-best in all areas to Fulham and Benítez was not about to complain about the non-award of two strong penalty appeals for handball.

He criticised his team for their inability to keep the ball up front or win the second balls in midfield and his parting shot summed things up: “We have to realise there is work to be done.”

Matt Smith headed home a Tom Cairney corner to hand Fulham a surprise win, with Rafa Benítez frustrated by the lack of a penalty for his side

The Spaniard had included five of his eight new signings, while there was no place for Moussa Sissoko, with the official explanation being that he lacked match fitness, rather than the desire to play on for the club in the face of transfer interest surrounding him.

It was Fulham that brought the strongest new look. Slavisa Jokanovic included all eight of his own summer signings and, inspired by one of them, the quick and direct striker, Sone Aluko, they earned a deserved victory.

The London club had stood as something of a cautionary tale to Newcastle. Since their relegation from the Premier League, they had finished 17th and 20th at this level.

It should not go unnoticed that they had lost their best two players from last season – the strikers Ross McCormack and Moussa Dembélé – but Jokanovic could end the evening by talking of having seen a “serious football team” come together.

Fulham reminded their visitors of why this division is such a cut-throat place with a performance of grit, organisation and energy, garnished by flashes of exuberance, particularly from Aluko.

There was also the jaw-dropping piece of skill on 81 minutes from the Belgian right-back, Denis Odoi, which epitomised their rising levels of confidence.

He spun and used the back of his shoulder to flick the ball around Paul Dummett before running on to it and away.

On what became a pulsating occasion, Matt Smith scored the winner with a powerful header from Tom Cairney’s outswinging corner in first-half stoppage time.

The Newcastle inquest will centre uguapon why the striker, who is hardly difficult to spot inside the box, was granted such space. He was Jamaal Lascelles’s man but, perhaps, Dummett’s slip provided a distraction.

Jokanovic was also delighted by the clean sheet.

Fulham had found them difficult to come by last season.

It was not Newcastle’s night. Despite the best efforts of Matt Ritchie, they could not find a way to goal and they were left to lament the waving away of their penalty shouts.

The first one in the 35th minute was clearcut. Ritchie stood a high cross back from the left and when Ryan Tunnicliffe leapt to block with his arm, the Fulham midfielder felt the ball hit his hand.

The second came in the last minute and, again, Ritchie was involved.

His shot was goal-bound only for Tomas Kalas to fling himself in front of it.

There appeared to be contact with the Fulham player’s hand. “The first one was clear,” Benítez said. “The second one depends on the referee, but no excuses.”

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Fulham could point to their own penalty appeals, although they were less wholehearted. Both of them involved Aluko.

He was caught by Grant Hanley in the first half, with the Newcastle defender appearing to have got something on the ball first, while after the interval Hanley seemed to nudge him as he bore down on a Smith knock-down.

Fulham made it a blood and thunder kind of occasion and for many of the Newcastle players, who might have been used to the Premier League, it was a jolt.

Time on the ball was at a premium – just ask Ayoze Pérez.

For much of the first half, it had felt like a question of waiting for a football match to break out but, amid the intensity, there were moments of composure from Cairney and his towering midfield colleague, Kevin McDonald.

Newcastle went close on 53 minutes when Vurnon Anita crossed and Ritchie drew a reflex save out of David Button and the game’s final quarter was studded with action at both ends.

Ritchie worked Button from distance and Rolando Aarons, the substitute, miskicked when well placed while Scott Malone shot wide and Floyd Ayité was denied by Matz Sels after tricking his way through.

The Sky TV cameras were all over Benítez, shadowing him on the long walks between the tunnel in the corner of the stadium and the bench on the far side.

He is the biggest name not only at Newcastle but in the division.

On this occasion, they captured his frustration.

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