Newcastle beat Fulham 2-1 this afternoon to record their best start to a Premier League season in 16 years.
Leon Best was on hand to bag a brace as the hosts once again managed to put all talk of signings and off-field trouble aside to record back to back wins following on from the victory at Sunderland last weekend.
Seven points from nine available is a return that I would have snapped your hand off for had it been offered to me before the season started considering we’ve played a top four team and our local rivals away from home in our opening three fixtures. Needless to say that I’m delighted with the result even though we had to grind it out in the end.
Cheik Tiote and Jonas Gutierrez were recalled to the starting line up having been left out of the match against Scunthorpe whilst Gabriel Obertan replaced the space vacated by Joey Barton wide on the right. Leon Best and Peter Lovenkrands were the preferred option up front with Demba Ba dropping to the bench and Shola Ameobi resting his hip.
It was Fulham who started the brighter of the two teams though as the home side struggled to get a foothold in the game. Their passing and movement was far superior to ours although they never really threatened Tim Krul in the Newcastle goal.
Eventually the boys in black and white woke up a little and managed to dictate a bit more of the game, with Yohan Cabaye being the main architect of the revival. His vision and work ethic was there for all to see this afternoon as he set about breaking up attacks and spreading the play whenever he could whilst being backed up by Cheik Tiote who came into the game more as first-half progressed.
I counted one save that had to be made up until the 44th minute when Newcastle really started to gain the advantage. First off Jonas Gutierrez had a header saved by Mark Schwarzer before Leon Best had an effort on goal blocked by a last ditch tackle from Aaron Hughes. Yohan Cabaye was denied by the Aussie with an improvised chip shot from the wide left area and, finally, Ryan Taylor had a shot from the edge of the penalty area which curled just wide of Schwarzer’s right-hand post in what was just about the last event of note in the first-half.
I thought that half-time came at the wrong time for Newcastle in fairness. We were in the ascendency and created a lot of chances in a short space of time whilst keeping the pressure on the away side so it was a shame that our dominant passage of play was disrupted by the referee wanting his cup of tea and not allowing us to take the corner that was awarded to us right at the end of the half.
No matter though as the home fans didn’t have to wait long for the breakthrough. On 48 minutes Ryan Taylor took a quick throw in which Yohan Cabaye took in his stride before launching a wicked shot on goal that Mark Schwarzer could only tip onto the bar only for the rebound to fall straight to Leon Best for an easy tap in.
Fulham responded almost immediately through Steve Sidwell who forced a fine save from Tim Krul who tipped the midfielders headed effort onto the crossbar and out for a corner. Damien Duff also went close with a shot after a mazy run but his effort could only find the sidenetting much the pleasure of the home fans who were, rightly, on his back all afternoon. Turncoat bastard!
Peter Lovenkrands was withdrawn after an ineffectual afternoon and was replaced by Demba Ba. I can only guess that at sometime between Thursday and today we’ve been given the real Demba Ba back as this one looked completely different to the one we saw at Glanford Park in the Carling Cup.
It wasn’t long before Ba had an effect on the game as he received the ball from Gabriel Obertan and drilled a low cross into the box which Leon Best managed to trap, turn on, and fire home in one smooth movement. An excellent finish from the Republic of Ireland international who, whilst not being exceptional, is once again displaying a canny knack of being in the right place at the right time.
The second goal signalled a switch in tactics by Alan Pardew as Leon Best was withdrawn to be replaced by Haris Vuckic leaving Demba Ba as the lone striker with the Slovenian working in and around him. It didn’t last long though as young Haris was forced off with a hand injury which meant that Alan Smith, flowing blonde locks and all, was introduced.
As you may appreciate, 2-0 is not a nice scoreline to have. Don’t get me wrong as I’d prefer to be winning 2-0 rather than losing 2-0, but at 2-0 you have to get the balance right. You can’t be too cavalier and can’t be too defensive. I think we just about nailed that although it was with huge thanks to Tim Krul who made another two outstanding saves from Chris Baird and Danny Murphy.
It’s fair to say that Krul was having a blinder although it’s also fair to say that he was at fault for what was merely a consolation goal for Fulham. Danny Murphy pinged a free-kick into the box which Clint Dempsey flicked over Tim Krul who had come to deal with ball but was nowhere near it in the end.
It was indecisiveness to be honest. He could have stayed on his line or come and cleared everything out but he got caught in middle ground meaning that Dempsey had the simple task of finding the back of an unguarded net. In fairness I think Krul has earned the right to make an error after his start to the season. Fortunately it didn’t cost us any points this time.
At 2-1 and with only a few minutes left to play the nerves started jangling as Fulham pushed for an equaliser. It was Newcastle who could have put the game to bed though had Demba Ba been a bit more fortunate and not seen his powerful shot deflected onto the crossbar and out of play.
Despite the best attempts of the referee, who gave Fulham everything in the final stages of the game, Newcastle managed to hold on much to the relief of the 42,684 strong crowd and many more who weren’t at the game today.
Full time: Newcastle 2-1 Fulham
I was impressed with some of our new lads today. Yohan Cabaye improved again and showed a willingness to get stuck in. We also saw a willingness to attack from the French midfielder. He is looking like he’ll be a key player for us.
Gabriel Obertan also impressed. He tracked back a lot and provided an outlet on the right. Tim Krul was outstanding bar one error of judgement and Demba Ba looked much improved from what we’ve seen of him so far.
It wasn’t pretty but we got there in the end. An unbeaten start to the season will send me into the international break a happy man before we return to action against Joey Barton and his new QPR side on Monday, 12th September.
Tim Krul – 7 – Slightly marked down for his error but it was still a great performance from him. Some great saves throughout the match. In my view he is now our clear #1.
Danny Simpson – 5 – Average. Didn’t really do a lot wrong but didn’t really do much right either. Needs to improve or I can see ‘ower the waaalll’ taking his place.
Steven Taylor – 6 – Another steady performance. Did what he had to do with minimal fuss.
Fabricio Coloccini – 7 – Same as Taylor really although I feel Colo had a bit more to do in terms of interceptions and the like.
Ryan Taylor (over the wall) – 6 – Steady away for the makeshift left-back. Not the long term answer but fair play to him for trying and giving it a good go in what is not his natural position.
Gabriel Obertan – 7 – Put a shift in and had a hand in setting up Leon Best’s second goal. Tracked back when needed as was looking for the ball when Newcastle were in possession. Promising.
Yohan Cabaye – 7 – Looking more and more like he’ll be a cracking player for us. Fantastic shot which resulted in Best’s opening goal, got stuck in when needed, and doesn’t take any shyte off the opposition. Dreamboat.
Cheik Tiote – 6 – Lucky not to get booked after numerous niggling challenges on Fulham players. Seems to be improving but is not back to his best yet.
Jonas Gutierrez – 7 – Another shift put in from Jonas. Was unlucky not to score from a header in the first half. He works so hard for the team. Grafter.
Peter Lovenkrands – 3 – I said before the game that he is either scoring a goal or anonymous. Today he was anonymous. Poor.
Leon Best – 7 – Has a knack of being in the right place at the right time. He hassles defenders, can receive the ball and lay it off and link up play. Showed neat footwork for his second goal. Needs to work on staying onside.
Demba Ba – 6 – Much improved, provided an assist and nearly scored. Would like to see him get a start next time round as we saw the West Ham Demba Ba today.
Haris Vuckic – N/A – I’m not ranking him because he was only on the pitch for a few minutes, but he did still show glimpses of his talent by linking up with Obertan and spreading the play before being withdrawn with a suspected broken finger.
Alan Smith – 4 – Shyte.
I’ve decided to run with a Man of the Match poll that will be added to every match review article. Basically you choose your own Man of the Match and the winner gets awarded with, well, nothing really, but it’s a gauge of what you guys think. Here goes.