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Fulham 2-1 Newcastle Premiership Matchday 16 1213 The Independent

last updated Tuesday 11th December 2012, 9:03 PM

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Simon Peach at The Independent

Fulham (1) 2 Newcastle (0) 1

This may not be a happy Christmas for Newcastle United.

The team who threatened the Champions League last season have turned into something quite different.

Tonight at Craven Cottage they did almost nothing right, and were flattered by their 2-1 defeat to Fulham.

What looked at first like just a slow start is now something else.

This was Newcastle's fifth defeat in six league matches, none of them against teams likely to finish in the top six.

Those sides are yet to come: Newcastle host Manchester City on Saturday before travelling to Manchester United and Arsenal between Christmas and New Year.

2012 was nearly a brilliant year at St James' Park but it could well end rather uncomfortably.

Neither Fulham nor Newcastle have started this season as well as they might.

Each side had won only four of their first 15 games which, given the quality of attacking players they both have, was sorely insufficient.

So there was pressure on both.

The result was a first half in which both teams played in more of a rush than they needed to.

Newcastle threw bodies and the ball forward without much precision, but it was Fulham who nearly scored in the first minute.

Alexander Kacaniklic ran through on goal but was just squeezed out.

Dimitar Berbatov tried to bend the chaos into order, memorably taking down a clearance returning from the clouds with his stomach on the spin.

But his strike partner Hugo Rodallega looked more at home in this hectic game, volleying over before setting up Fulham's opening goal.

Rodallega has a sharp turn of pace and he spun past a challenge before playing in Damien Duff in behind Fabricio Coloccini.

Duff rolled the ball back to the edge of the box where Steve Sidwell, arriving from midfield, scored via Mike Williamson's thigh, the cross-bar and the goal-line.

Berbatov ought to have scored a second straight after, taking advantage of Cheick Tioté's dismal pass to Coloccini but failing to find a way past Tim Krul, charging out of goal.

It was only when the Newcastle manager, Alan Pardew, swapped Hatem Ben Arfa and Jonas Gutierrez, damming up the gaping left-wing, that United got into the game.

Then they started to create.

Sascha Reither had to block Coloccini's header on the line before doing so again when Demba Ba shot on the turn.

Hatem Ben Arfa volleyed over the bar and it was the visitors' momentum which the interval ended.

Fulham could have made their second half slightly easier five minutes in.

Berbatov, again seeing spaces others could not, found himself through on goal, waited but stabbed the ball into the side-netting.

The miss was punished four minutes later by the next most talented man on the pitch.

Ben Arfa had a frustrating evening but, like Berbatov, he has powers of imagination and execution far beyond those of his team-mates.

When Ben Arfa had the ball 20 yards out on the right-hand side, everyone was expecting a cross.

Mark Schwarzer certainly was.

But Ben Arfa shuffled past Sidwell and curled the ball round John Arne Riise and into the near top corner of the goal.

Newcastle, however, were not defending well enough to stay in the game.

Berbatov and Rodallega were playing better than Williamson and Coloccini, and so it was always going to be difficult.

Berbatov played through Sidwell but Krul was again out too quickly, and the shot was blocked.

When Fulham retook the lead, then, it was little surprise.

Tioté , who played thoughtlessly all evening, gave away a free-kick.

Duff curled it in from the right and Rodallega rose above Coloccini to head past Krul.

Newcastle were in no mood to lose 2-1 and so continued to push.

Shola Ameobi came on.

Coloccini curled a shot on to the crossbar.

But Fulham could break against just three or four defenders with every attack.

Berbatov crossed to Sidwell who swiped the ball over.

Coloccini, desperately over-worked at the back, had to dive in front of a Berbatov shot.

Newcastle conjured a few shots from distance in the final minutes.

But with Ben Arfa off there was nothing Schwarzer could not handle with the comfort of a goalkeeper who knows his Christmas will be easier than some others'.

Fulham: SCHWARZER 5/10, RIETHER 7, HUGHES 6, HANGELAND 6, RIISE 6, DUFF 6, SIDWELL 7, BAIRD 6, KACANIKLIC 5, BERBATOV 7, RODALLEGA 7 Substitutes:Dejagah 5 (Kacaniklic, 62), Petric (Rodallega, 86).

Newcastle: KRUL 6, SANTON 5, COLOCCINI 6, WILLIAMSON 4, SIMPSON 5, GUTIERREZ 5, ANITA 5, TIOTE 3, BEN ARFA 6, BA 5, CISSE 4 Substitutes:Shola Ameobi 6 (Ben Arfa, 70), Marveaux (Anita, 86), Bigirimana (Tioté, 86).


Fulham: Sidwell 19, Rodallega 63.

Newcastle: Ben Arfa 54

Booked None.

Man of the match Berbatov.

Match rating 5/10.

Referee L Mason (Lancashire).

Attendance 25,270

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