Just when Bobby Robson thought things were starting to go well for Newcastle, something like this has to happen. "The four players were sent home for a breach of disciplinary rules," said the obligatory 'club spokesman'. Of more concern than the incident itself involving four of Newcastle's finest may well be the unsettling influence it could have on a team performing very well in the Premiership at present.
At least that will be Jean Tigana's hope, as his club will look to pounce on any disquiet in the Toon ranks and grab the three points for themselves this weekend. Fulham have had far from the start most expected as they almost played Manchester United off the park in the opening match of the campaign. Their excellent distribution rate remains at a high 79%, but the club have managed just three wins from 11 games.
Newcastle have been dogged by the same inconsistency that has hit each of their recent Premiership campaigns, but something appears to be different this term - the spirit demonstrated in the comfortable 3-0 win over Aston Villa last time out will give great heart to the Toon Army. Equally a newfound dependability up front has developed, with a goals-to-shots ratio of 15% proving that the United attack is currently well in form.
Up front is precisely where Fulham have struggled this season, with just 38% of their attempts - one of the lowest averages in the division - managing to force the 'keeper into action. The Cottagers' top scorer so far this term has been midfielder Steed Malbranque with four strikes to his name - proof indeed that the club's strikers have been consistently failing in front of goal.
No doubt much to the delight of the travelling fans, Louis Saha has not turned into the revelation many expected during 2001-02. Once on trial at Newcastle, Saha has managed to put away three goals so far, but with a great many chances having been wasted and a shooting accuracy of just 29% to his name.
And how does Saha compare to United's top goalscorer - former Coventry City front man Craig Bellamy? Fairly badly as it happens, as with Bellamy having converted 19% of his attempts - including two past the 'unbeatable' Peter Schmeichel - he has been by far the more prolific striker thus far.
Fulham have failed to set the Premiership alight as they would have hoped, and yet they have managed to climb to 12th in the table - a respectable enough position.
MOST SIGNIFICANT STATS
Vibrant Newcastle look for a fourth successive away win and their 50th victory under Bobby Robson against the club he once managed. But the 4th placed Tynesiders have never won a top division game at Fulham.
Indeed London is not a happy hunting ground for Newcastle. The Magpies haven't won in any competition in 26 visits to the capital, not since Ketsbaia and Tomasson scored in a 2-1 win at Crystal Palace in the Premiership on 29 November, 1997.
Fulham go into their 20th League meeting with the Magpies, but first in 16 years, having just hit form. After a seven match winless run, the Londoners have enjoyed successive victories over Southampton and at West Ham.
Defeat for the Magpies would be their 100th in the Premier League but one goal would mean they'd scored 500 in the competition.
HEAD TO HEAD
Total meetings: 45
Fulham wins: 17
Newcastle wins: 18
Fulham have beaten Newcastle in the League 15 times whilst the Cottagers have only lost to United 13 times.
In League competitions Newcastle have lost ten times at Craven Cottage and won just 4.
The last two League meetings at Craven Cottage in the old Second Division both finished 2-2.
The Magpies only win in 13 League visits to Fulham spanning 54 years was 1-3 in the former Division Two on 16 December, 1978. Newcastle also won 5-4 in a 4th Round FA Cup tie at Fulham on 28 January, 1956.
The Tynesiders have never won a top division game at Fulham.
Newcastle's last top flight victory over the Londoners was 2-1 at St James' Park in the old First Division on 14 October, 1967.
FULHAM: Current League position 12th 14 points - 8 places and 6 points below Newcastle
Best Scenario at final whistle Up 4 to 8th - If win, Tottenham lose at home to Arsenal with a three goals swing, and Blackburn lose at home to Liverpool, with a six goal swing.
Worst Scenario at final whistle Down 1 to 13th If lose, and Middlesbrough at least draw at Aston Villa.
WON LAST 2 - both Prem
GONE 4 AT HOME WITHOUT DEFEAT - 3 Prem, 1 WC [2 wins, 2 draws]
UNDEFEATED IN 3 HOME PREM GAMES [1 win, 2 draws]
GONE 3 SINCE FAILED TO SCORE - all Prem
2 wins in last 4 - all Prem
3 wins in last 5 - 2 in the Prem
1 defeat in last 7 League and Cup games
1 draw in last 5 in all competitions
3 wins in 11 League games this season
5 wins from this season's 13 matches so far
3 draws in last 6 Premiership duels
Lost 3 games this season - all Prem
4 clean sheets this season - all Prem
Failed to score once in last 6 in all competitions
Failed to score 3 times this season - all Prem
Fulham and Liverpool have committed fewest fouls in Premiership matches this season (137 each), according to the Barclaycard information sheet.
The same source reports that Fulham and Ipswich have been caught offside on fewest occasions - 20.
Three remaining ever presents in Steve Finnan, Steed Malbranque and Andy Melville. Only Finnan has started all 13 of the League and Cup games.
Current League position 4th 20 points - 3 points off the pace
Best Scenario at final whistle Up 3 to the TOP - If win by three clear goals, Liverpool lose at Blackburn and Aston Villa are beaten at home by Middlesbrough.
Worst Scenario at final whistle Down 3 to 7th - If lose, Arsenal win at Spurs, Man U beat Leicester at Old Trafford and Blackburn defeat Liverpool at Ewood Park with a three goal swing.
WON LAST 2 - both Prem
Scored 3 goals in each of last 2
WON LAST 3 AWAY - 2 Prem, 1 WC
GONE 11 LEAGUE & CUP GAMES SINCE A DRAW
4 wins in last 5 in all competitions
8 wins in last 11
Lost 1 in last 5, and 2 in 6
12 wins from 19 matches this season
3 defeats in the 19 - all Prem
7 clean sheets - 3 in the Prem
Failed to score 3 times in the last 8 - all Prem
Not found the net 4 times from 19 games in this campaign - 3 in the Prem
Potential Career Milestones
Alan SHEARER is a hat trick away from scoing 100 goals for Newcastle
One win away from recording 50 under Bobby Robson.
Defeat here would be 100th in the Premier League.
Need one goal to total 500 in the Premiership.
One remaining ever present in Craig Bellamy, who has not started all of the 19 games.
The Barclaycard information sheet reports that Newcastle, Leeds and Aston Villa have each used the least number of players in the Premiership this season - 19.
The same source reports that Newcastle and Blackburn have won most corners (84 each).