It was a tale of the sublime and the ridiculous at Craven Cottage as Newcastle ended up on the end of a resounding 5-2 defeat at the hands of Martin Jol’s Fulham.
It was sublime in the first half. Newcastle played as well as I’ve seen them play for a long time and pretty much dominated the hosts who were tame by comparison.
It then turned ridiculous in the second half as Fulham came back strong and scored five goals, which all started with the assistance of the referee who changed the game with a penalty decision that was awarded for a foul outside the box. Of course what happened after that there is no excuse for, but make no mistake that penalty decision – early in the second half – changed the dynamic of the game.
Yohan Cabaye shook off his injury and assumed his role in midfield next to Danny Guthrie while Hatem Ben Arfa was handed a start up front with Shola Ameobi and Leon Best. Defensively Newcastle were unchanged and kept the same back five that have been impressing so much in recent weeks.
Newcastle started off brightly and took the game to Fulham. Shola Ameobi headed goalwards while Fabricio Coloccini could ad probably should have put United into the lead but he applied a finish that reminded us all that Colo is a defender first and foremost.
More impressive though was the sheer dominance of the away side, aided and abetted by an abject Fulham side who just didn’t look interested. At one stage we had over 80% of the possession so it perhaps came as no surprise when Newcastle eventually took the lead. Well, perhaps the only surprise was that it took 43 minutes to find the breakthrough.
Ben Arfa – criticised by Alan Pardew for his lack of defensive work – won the ball back off of Bryan Ruiz before passing to Danny Guthrie who dribbled inside and unleashed an unstoppable 25-yard left-footed drive high into the Fulham net. It was an exquisite goal that reinforces the fine run of form Danny Guthrie – or the “G-Unit” as myself, Mark and Jobey christened him at Nottingham Forest earlier in the season – is in at the moment.
Half-time: Fulham 0-1 Newcastle
I always sense that Fulham would come out fired up and offer more, which they did. However they were gifted an equaliser when Davide Santon shoved Damien Duff in the back on the edge of the area resulting in the hosts being awarded a penalty. A harsh decision when you consider that first contact was made a good three yards outside the box. Danny Murphy slotted home the resulting spot kick to restore parity.
From then on there was only ever going to be one winner. Buoyed by the equaliser Fulham set about turning the screws on Newcastle. Zamora forced a save from Krul from which Chris Baird fired the rebound over. Parity didn’t last long however and Fulham did indeed take the lead. Andy Johnson ran at the away defence and played in Bobby Zamora whose shot was parried by Krul straight into the path of Clint Dempsey who was in the right place at the right time to find the back of the net.
A third goal came soon after, again through Clint Dempsey who finished calmly into the bottom corner of the after being played in by Zamora. With England boss Fabio Capello in the stands, Zamora looked keen to impress.
And it was the former West Ham man who made it 4-1 and round off a mad 16 minutes for the Magpies by despatching another penalty (the right call this time) straight down the middle of the goal after Andy Johnson was fouled by Tim Krul, or Mike Williamson. Take your pick. By that time I was to annoyed to work out just who the offence was given against…
Hope, well slim hope, was restored when Hatem Ben Arfa jinked in from the right wing and smashed the ball into the back of the net to reduce the deficit to 4-2 but any lingering hopes of a fight back were killed off a minute before time when Clint Dempsey completed his hat-trick and compound the misery for the away side.
Full-time: Fulham 5-2 Newcastle
So where do we start analysing? Well obviously it’s not a great result and our second half collapse was horrendous. We just seemed to completely switch off. Perhaps our first half performance bred some overconfidence? Perhaps it was the tactical switch from Jol? Maybe it was a bit of both?
The fact is that it’s done now and can’t be changed. Not many teams go through a season without getting some form of thumping and even the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United have been on the end of a hiding. Hopefully this game was ours!
There were a couple of encouraging things from the game yesterday though. One being Hatem Ben Arfa. He is becoming the starter that he’s been touted as being. It’s been a while coming, but he is working for the team now and is still doing his stuff when it comes to attacking. He’s stewing away quite nicely at the moment.
The other one, and this is a bit left field, is that the result was mainly our own doing. We were the architects of our downfall and that isn’t often the case. Generally we’ve been solid enough for bulk of the season and hopefully this result will give them enough of a kick up the backside to get back to what they have been doing so well this season.
Next week we are in FA Cup action. A chance to get back to winning ways and banish this result to the history books. Fair play to Fulham, but I can’t help thinking we made it so easy for them in the end.
Howay the lads!
Fulham: David Stockdale; Stephen Kelly, Brede Hangeland, Philippe Senderos, John Arne Riise; Steve Sidwell, Danny Murphy (c), Clint Dempsey; Damien Duff, Bobby Zamora, Bryan Ruiz
Subs: Neil Etheridge, Matthew Briggs, Chris Baird, Aaron Hughes, Kerim Frei, Marcel Gecov, Andrew Johnson
Newcastle: Tim Krul; Danny Simpson, Mike Williamson, Fabricio Coloccini (c), Davide Santon; Hatem Ben Arfa, Danny Guthrie, Yohan Cabaye, Jonas Gutierrez; Leon Best, Shola Ameobi
Subs: Rob Elliot, Shane Ferguson, James Perch, Ryan Taylor, Dan Gosling, Gabriel Obertan, Peter Lovenkrands.