From The Independent
Four years of fear and loathing in London continued yesterday for Newcastle United, who have somehow managed to play 27 games in the capital since their last victory, at Crystal Palace.
After a promising start to the afternoon they finished well beaten, with Alan Shearer having missed a late penalty and been outshone by the irrepressible Louis Saha, who did so little in Newcastle colours two years ago. An automatic fine, for having six players booked, rounded off another miserable afternoon in the Smoke.
In front of the great Johnny Haynes - to whom even Mohamed Al Fayed deferred on their pre-match walkabout - Fulham put on the sort of performance to make the occasional observer wonder how they can have been short of goals at home. Some of the passing and movement was again a delight, and the first two goals were outstanding.
Jean Tigana's English may be less fluent than his team's football but, like the players, he is growing into his new status, and felt confident enough to address a post-match press conference for the first time at Craven Cottage. "We can play at this level," he said. "I want my team to get 41 points. Then it's possible to dream."
His opposite number, Bobby Robson, had been warmly welcomed at a ground he swore never to go back to after being sacked nine months into his first managerial job shortly before Christmas 1968. He is no closer than anyone else to finding a reason for the bizarre sequence in London, which he was confident would end yesterday on the back of a good run of results. As he pointed out, Newcastle looked to have a good chance for the opening 20 minutes, before Saha struck.
Unrecognisable to Geordies - and not just because of his straw-coloured rinse - he curled a superb shot under Shay Given's crossbar after collecting Robbie Elliott's poor defensive header and playing a one-two with Sylvain Legwinski. The visitors might have been ahead a minute earlier. Alain Goma, having a considerably less comfortable game against his former club than Saha, headed weakly away to Gary Speed, who released Craig Bellamy; Edwin van der Sar slipped as he advanced, but was just able to block the Welshman's shot with his huge frame.
Worse, they were soon two goals in arrears. A lovely passing move flowed from John Collins to Saha to Steed Malbranque, and inside the full-back for Legwinski to finish from a tight angle. By half-time, the damage could have been irreparable, and early in the second half there was more of the same, Andy O'Brien's mistake sending Saha clear to be thwarted by Given, the Republic of Ireland's hero in Iran 48 hours earlier.
Out of the blue came a typical headed goal by Speed, from Hughes' neat cross, but within five minutes Malbranque's corner was nudged on by a defender and Barry Hayles climbed highest to head in.
A ridiculous penalty decision gave Newcastle the opportunity to get back into the game again. Goma clearly played the ball when challenging the ineffective Laurent Robert, but Van der Sar's fingertips pushed Shearer's spot-kick on to a post. The referee, Eddie Wolstenholme, having a poor game, compounded his error by missing Goma's foul on Shearer as the visitors' captain went for the rebound.
A thoroughly deserved Fulham victory and a scoreline to flatter a Newcastle side which came to London with an outside chance of sharing the lead at the top of the Premiership table - had they won.
But this did not seem to be the same Newcastle side with a win over Manchester United to their name and which thrashed Aston Villa last time. They can be as bad as they can be good so far this season and have failed to win their last 27 games in the capital.
Newcastle were the better team for the opening 20 minutes and could have led when Craig Bellamy's considerable skills took him past Andy Melville to create a great chance only for Edwin van der Sar to recover from a slip and save an unconvincing low shot.
Seconds later Fulham were ahead and suddenly Newcastle looked harmless. A second Fulham goal followed soon after and Newcastle were off the pace. Louis Saha, rejected by Newcastle two years ago after a six-month injury-plagued stay, scored Fulham's opener to indicate that he could yet make a significant impact at this level. Having exchanged passes with fellow Frenchman Sylvain Legwinski on the edge of the area he curled an unstoppable ball over goalkeeper Shay Given.
With Newcastle offering little resistance, Legwinski scored the second in the 28th minute with a low drive after Saha and Steed Malbranque had combined to set him up.
Given, a hero for the Republic of Ireland in Tehran last Thursday, then made a series of good saves to stop Fulham running away with it. Perhaps it would be a bit unfair to say Newcastle folded when they were up against it, but that's what it looked like
They were not much better after half-time and Fulham missed further good chances to put the game to bed. Saha was a constant threat and only Given kept Newcastle alive. Having failed to finish the job when the going was good, Fulham handed Newcastle further hope when they relaxed at the back and conceded a 65th-minute goal. Aaron Hughes whipped in a cracking cross from the right and Gary Speed headed in unchallenged from six yards out.
Newcastle soon blew cold again, though, and were two goals behind just five minutes later when they failed to deal with a Malbranque corner and Barry Hayles headed in Fulham's third at the far post.
Alan Shearer betrayed the frustration of his team when, for dissent, he became their sixth player booked. Shearer had a chance to smile when he took a 78th-minute penalty, inexplicably awarded by referee Eddie Wolstenholme for Alain Gomas' challenge on Robert, but Van Der Sar tipped the shot onto a post. Shearer was then bundled over by Goma as he tried to finish on the rebound. That should have been a penalty, but somehow justice was done as Fulham ran out worthy winners.
AND so it goes on. For the 27th consecutive occasion, Newcastle failed to win a game in London. Nor did they deserve to, though if Craig Bellamy had put away his chance midway through the first half, if Fulham had not so swiftly countered with a goal of their own, if Alan Shearer had not missed a second-half penalty, or been awarded another, perhaps it might have been different.
Undeservedly so, however. Overall, Fulham were far the livelier, more penetrative, a more inventive team, and Shay Given, a hero of the Republic of Ireland's performance in Tehran last Thursday, found himself once again busily involved.
When Newcastle did get back into the game after 65 minutes, as Gary Speed headed in Aaron Hughes's right-wing cross, making the score 2-1, it was substantially more than they deserved. Fulham, in the first 10 minutes of that second half, just as for much of the preceding 45 minutes, had dictated the game, and made abundant chances, taking two of them. The match turned on two early incidents. When Bellamy turned comfortably past his fellow Welshman, Andy Melville, a Newcastle goal looked certain. But out came Fulham's big keeper, Edwin van der Sar, to block Bellamy's shot.
Down almost immediately to the other end went Fulham. A long ball into the box from John Collins was inadequately headed out by Newcastle's Rob Elliott. It fell to Sylvain Legwinski, who neatly found Louis Saha, who curled a left-footed shot high into the top left-hand corner of the Newcastle goal.
It was hardly Newcastle's day when it came to defensive headers. The third Fulham goal, which properly put the game beyond Newcastle's reach, on 70 minutes, arrived when Steed Malbranque's left-wing corner skidded off the head of Andy O'Brien and was headed in by Barry Hayles.
It was a bitter-sweet afternoon for Newcastle manager Bobby Robson. He was applauded when he took up his position by a Fulham crowd which clearly remembered him both as manager and player at Craven Cottage. Indeed, Johnny Haynes, for so long his impressive partner at inside-forward here, lapped the ground to similar applause at half-time.
Any chance that Newcastle had of saving the match vanished when Shearer missed a penalty 11 minutes from the end. The referee decided that Alain Goma's challenge on Laurent Robert was culpable, only for Van der Sar to turn Shearer's kick gallantly on to a post. Goma then felled Shearer which looked worthier of a penalty, but no award was forthcoming. Fulham, after taking the lead, became dominant, and their second goal on 28 minutes exposed the deficiencies of Newcastle's defence. A simple but telling pass inside the full-back by Malbranque released Legwinski, who roared in from the right to drive past Given.
Given subsequently blocked a shot by Malbranque on the ground, and reached up resourcefully to push the ball to safety when Hayles followed up and shot again. Four minutes later, when Legwinski drove the ball past him, Nolberto Solano was there to clear from the goalmouth.
Meanwhile, one wonders whether Fulham, in all this exuberance, will be successful in overcoming objections from local residents to the enlargement of their ground. Years ago Craven Cottage frequently had crowds of 40,000 and more with no objection to be heard: but that, of course, was well before the area was gentrified.
For all their elan, Fulham's French manager, Jean Tigana, says his dream is "to arrive between eighth and 12th". Indeed, in the opening 10 minutes of the second half, they were steadily threatening. Saha was clean through, but Given, rushing desperately out of his goal, made a good save. Subsequently, he had less trouble dealing with a header from the same player.
It was Newcastle, however, who struck when they reduced the lead through Speed's header and, as Robson said, there was then every hope his team might save the game. But on 70 minutes came Hayles's header, and justice was finally done.
"YOU'LL NEVER win in London," cried the Fulham fans and at 3-1 up with 10 minutes to go they could be fairly confident that Newcastle would be travelling home without a win for the 27th consecutive visit to the capital. When seconds later Alan Shearer missed a penalty, the Geordie fans knew it too.
It was not a happy homecoming for Bobby Robson, the Newcastle manager, who cut his managerial teeth at Craven Cottage. It was his first visit in a competitive nature since he was sacked by Eric Miller 33 years ago. When the Fulham hatchet man later committed suicide, Robson remarked: "It just goes to show how well he could handle pressure."
His Newcastle team did not handle Fulham's incessant pressure too well yesterday, two goals in nine first-half minutes by the former Newcastle player Louis Saha and Sylvain Legwinski doing nothing for their fragile confidence in this part of the world.
Even so, Newcastle had started the more brightly and indeed might have scored seconds before Fulham did had it not been for the alertness of Edwin van der Sar, who managed to block an effort from Craig Bellamy despite slipping as he came out to deal with the fleet-footed forward.
Talking of quick strikers, Saha has lost a little confidence after his lively start to the season, as a complete mishit after seven minutes seemed to indicate, but the goal he hit after 19 minutes should rectify that. Following a weak clearance by Robbie Elliott, he curled a magnificent shot with his left foot around Shay Given from 20 yards for his first Premiership goal since Sept 9.
By the time Nikos Dabizas became the second Newcastle defender to be booked, after 27 minutes, the alacrity of the Fulham attacks was beginning to tell on Robson's side. Fulham's second goal a minute later was as fluent a move as one could wish to see. John Collins started it with a crossfield run. Saha and Steed Malbranque maintained the momentum of the move before a ball behind the Newcastle left-back opened the way for Legwinski to score with an emphatic finish.
Given then stood up to Malbranque and Barry Hayles in quick succession before Aaron Hughes came to his keeper's rescue when he cleared a Legwinski shot off the line.
Only momentarily did Newcastle threaten to get back into this game when Gary Speed headed home a Hughes cross after 65 minutes. Four minutes later, Fulham regained their two-goal advantage when a Malbranque corner was flicked on at the near post by a Newcastle head and Hayles headed home.
The referee, Eddie Wolstenholme, had amazed fans of either side with some of his decisions but none was as bizarre as his penalty award to Newcastle after 80 minutes, when Alain Goma was penalised for a perfectly fair challenge on Shearer. The former England captain drove the spot kick against the post and as he followed up was bundled over by the Frenchman. Predictably, Wolstenholme waved play on.