A second-half strike from Damien Duff helped Fulham record a hard-fought victory over a tenacious Newcastle United.
Newcastle came to Craven Cottage with the clear intention of frustrating Fulham’s play in the midfield area Alan Pardew’s men certainly carried those instructions out to the letter.
The high tempo pressurising from midfield duo Danny Guthrie and Kevin Nolan, aided by Leon Best, who frequently dropped back into midfield, certainly made life difficult for the Whites.
With the game struggling to break into full flow, a lengthy stoppage ensued on the ten minute mark after Shola Ameobi and Steve Sidwell challenged for a ball in the air, with the Newcastle striker coming off second best. Ameobi could no longer continue and was replaced by Nile Ranger soon after.
Despite Newcastle's resistance, Fulham were still able to threaten their opponents from out wide – with both Damien Duff and Andrew Johnson breaking into promising positions. In defence, there was relatively little to challenge the returning Mark Schwarzer until the 20th minute when a teasing free-kick from Joey Barton forced Sidwell to glance the ball away for a corner.
As the first-half progressed, Fulham gradually started to dictate the pace of the game, certainly the Whites’ play in the final third looked to be creating the more likely goal scoring opportunities. An alert clearance from Harper on the edge of his area prevented good chance for Clint Dempsey after a Danny Murphy through ball had the sent American chasing.
There were no such opportunities for Newcastle, whose primary defensive preoccupation limited their ability to test the Whites at the back. Clint Dempsey came closest to scoring for Fulham on 34 minutes when a Danny Murphy free-kick fell to him six yards out, only for him to volley wide of Harper’s goal.
Tenacious play from Damien Duff early in the second-half saw him dispossess Jose Enrique Sanchez before making straight for goal, unfortunately a last-ditch tackle from Mike Williamson blocked Duff’s attempt on goal.
Duff was again in the heat of the action minutes later when Dempsey’s shot was saved by the foot of Harper, only to deflect into the path of the Republic of Ireland international. His side-footed attempt on goal rolled agonisingly wide from three yards out.
Newcastle responded by increasing the pressure on Fulham’s back line, but despite their time in possession in Fulham’s defensive third, Mark Schwarzer was only required to perform the most routine of saves.
At the other end Steve Harper produced an outstanding stop at his near post to deny Dempsey on 63 minutes after good play from the Whites forced an opening. Dempsey’s shot had plenty of power but Harper threw a strong hand up to palm the ball over.
The pace of the game had visibly escalated and Fulham looked to be better at ease. The opening goal of the game came on 66 minutes through the lively Damien Duff. Danny Murphy was the architect of the move, drifting a perfect pass over the head of Jose Enrique for Duff to hammer a firm shot past Harper.
Gael Kakuta made his Craven Cottage debut soon after, replacing Andrew Johnson in attack.
The debutant came close to marking his first appearance in a White shirt after Duff set Mousa Dembele free down the right flank. The Belgian international squared the ball for Kakuta, whose first shot was well held by Harper.
Mark Schwarzer then produced an important save when he was able to get down to smother Nile Ranger’s close-range shot.
The action soon swung to the other end and a perfect through-pass form Kakuta sent Dempsey clear. Newcastle had Harper to thank after he closed the distance on Dempsey quickly enough to make the save.
Kakuta was certainly exerting a positive influence on the game as his pass, once again, set Dempsey away – the Frenchman starting a move that he came close to finishing in style inside the six yard box.
Mark Hughes introduced Zoltan Gera and Simon Davies to the action late on in place of Danny Murphy and Damien Duff.
The Whites were able to contain Newcastle well for the remainder of the encounter, securing three important points.