The in-demand Frenchman was conspicuous by his absence as he discussed his proposed move to Manchester United, and the Londoners did little to suggest that there might still be life without him as they crumbled at St James' Park. Defender Andy O'Brien and midfielder Gary Speed put Sir Bobby Robson's side 2-0 up before the break as they capitalised on some less than effective defending to leave the small band of travelling supporters huddled under the rafters in the gods at St James' Park among a crowd of 50,104.
But it was an audacious 54th-minute overhead kick from Laurent Robert which put the icing on the cake and sealed a double over the Londoners as United climbed above Fulham and into the top five.
The home side were rarely stretched in the 4,000th league game in the club's history, and Sean Davis' 74th-minute strike proved scant consolation for the visitors. Newcastle went into the match knowing that three points was a must if they were to climb above one of their fellow contenders for that final Champion League spot and not concede any further ground to Charlton.
They did so on the back of a good run with just two defeats in their previous 15 Barclaycard Premiership games and having returned unscathed from last weekend's trip to Old Trafford with confidence soaring. What they wanted was a comprehensive victory to confirm their returning potency, and although may not have been at their fluent best on a sticky pitch before the break, they more than laid the foundations with a pacy display which at times left the visitors gasping for breath.
O'Brien started the ball rolling with just four minutes gone, slamming home a close-range shot after Jonathan Woodgate had recycled a Robert corner and Alan Shearer had seen his effort blocked. Speed ensured that his side left the pitch at the break with a just reward for their efforts, heading a Nolberto Solano corner past the stranded Edwin van der Sar at the near post four minutes before half-time. It was no more than they deserved as the lively Kieron Dyer and Solano made life intensely difficult for debutant right-back Carlos Bocanegro and central defender Zat Knight. In Saha's absence, Barry Hayles had been asked to lead the line with Luis Boa Morte joining him whenever possible from wide on the left. The Portuguese flier threatened at regular intervals during the early stages as he gave Aaron Hughes a stern examination, but apart from a 19th-minute effort which he hammered into the side-netting from a narrow angle, 'keeper Shay Given had few real scares before the break. United old boy Lee Clark and Davis ensured that Speed and Jermaine Jenas never had it all their own way, but the feeling that it was not going to be Fulham's night had started to grow after Sylvain Legwinski was forced to limp off with a cut shin just 18 minutes into the game following a rugged challenge by Jenas.
Fulham knew they had to hit back almost immediately after the break if they were to salvage anything from the game, but after a scrappy start to the second half, a sizeable helping of Gallic flair put paid to their hopes. Robert picked up possession on the left and fed the ball inside to Speed. The Welshman in turn picked out Jenas, and he slid the ball into the path of Solano, who floated in a cross which Robert, having sauntered into the middle, dispatched acrobatically into the net with an outrageous overhead kick.
Newcastle started to relax with the points safely banked with Woodgate imperious at the back, mopping up potential attacks on halfway before they could even take form and Robert, Solano and Dyer starting to punch holes in the Fulham rearguard with increasing regularity. However, Robson's men were handed a wake-up call 16 minutes from time when the ball fell to Davis 25 yards out, and he drove in a low shot which skidded off the pitch and, via Given's right post, ended up in the back of the net. The goal proved little more than a minor irritant to the home side, who had kept clean sheets in each of their three previous games, although substitute Moritz Volz did get his head to a Clark cross but could not cause Given enough difficulty to make an impact. Robson was even able to withdraw Shearer, Robert and Solano with six minutes remaining to give the fit-again Shola Ameobi, Hugo Viana and Darren Ambrose a run-out, and it was their side which closed out the game comfortably, with the exception of an injury-time shot from Volz which ran just wide, to secure three valuable points.