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Fulham 1-0 Newcastle Prem 30 1314 Daily Mail

last updated Monday 17th March 2014, 7:07 PM
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Patrick Collins at Daily Mail

Fulham (0) 1 Newcastle (0) 0

At the close of a gloriously surreal afternoon by the Thames, the Fulham fans were singing, a World Cup final referee was blushing and an absent manager was bawling frustrated curses across the executive suite of a superior west London hotel. Sometimes, the Premier League is actually worth the prices it charges.

Fulham's delight sprang from the first victory of Felix Magath's managerial tenure. A deserved victory too, delivered by a thunderous drive by their substitute Ashkan Dejagah and a marginal miscalculation by the Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul.

Howard Webb's blushes arose from a penalty decision he missed in the final seconds of added time, when John Heitinga threw out an arm and blocked a shot in the area. One can only imagine how Alan Pardew might have reacted to being denied such blatant justice.

But, of course, Pardew was banged up in that hotel suite, following his ill-judged nod of the head at Hull a week past.

His deputy, John Carver, later revealed that he had spoken with his 'gaffer' twice: first as he walked from the pitch at half-time - 'He raised a couple of points. He was very calm' - then again at the end, when Pardew urged him to speak to Webb about the penalty incident.

Although Carver did not say so, one imagines the manager was rather less calm at that stage.

Not that Fulham were bothered by anybody's reactions. Magath used words like 'happy' and 'proud', and said he was confident that relegation could be avoided.

'It was necessary to win today,' he said, stating the obvious with some relish. 'It is a good feeling.'

The match had taken its time to firm a pattern, perhaps overshadowed by that spectre of Our Absent Friend. Within 10 minutes, the Newcastle fans had revealed an appreciation of the occasion with a chorus of: 'That Alan Pardew, he nuts who he wants.' By contrast, the Newcastle bench was restraint personified. They sat shoulder to shoulder, inscrutable as the Soviet praesidium at those May Day parades of old.

In truth, there was little in the listless first half-hour to bring them leaping from their bench. With a breeze off the Thames and the crowd shielding their eyes from the sun, it was a day fit for county cricket rather than the neurotic business of Premier League survival.

After those 30 minutes of torpid equality, Lewis Holtby drew a fine save from Krul, and half the crowd came awake with a guilty start.

But as the more adventurous runners started to find space, the match began to expand. In 35 minutes, Papiss Cisse made lunging contact with a ball driven across the Fulham area, and David Stockdale made his first contribution of an excellent afternoon with an impressive parry.

The half-time oration in the Newcastle dressing room was apparently delegated to the captain Fabricio Coloccini. Hopes were not especially high.

'Colo is not the type of person to deliver a Churchillian speech, that's not his way,' Pardew had said. One wonders how many decades have passed since the last time the Newcastle dressing room was treated to Churchillian oratory.

Still, on 55 minutes, the visitors enjoyed an escape they barely deserved. With Fulham pulling the defence askew with the earnest running of young Cauley Woodrow, Heitinga pounded forward and struck a ferocious drive which hit the underside of the bar and bounced down. To the naked eye, it looked to have crossed the line, but technology later ruled it out by half an inch. The willing Woodrow, following up, squeezed in the rebound, but was correctly judged offside.

Dejagah came on for Pajtim Kasami on the hour, as Fulham raised the pace with their urgency. And then, on 68 minutes, the match was effectively decided. Willim Kvist gave a ball away recklessly in the Fulham midfield and Cisse was allowed a clear run on goal. The shot was firm, the save of Stockdale rather better.

The clearance saw the ball worked up the left, finding Dejagah in space. It appeared inoccuous as he moved inside, but his drive was brutally struck, bounced in front of Krul and flew into the far corner. A kind of justice seemed to have been served.

But there was one last twist, and it came in the final seconds of added time, with Krul in the opposing box in a desperate search for equality. He hacked at a loose ball, and Heitinga's arm flew out. The penalty seemed a foregone conclusion, but as Webb explained to an admirably restrained Carver, he had been in no position to see it.

Somebody asked Carver how the decision had gone down in that hotel room in west London. He managed a smile: 'Believe it or not, he's quite a calm guy, you know,' he said.

It was easily the best line of a diverting day.

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