Monday, February 05, 2007

Capital gain loss

Fulham 2 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Q. What does the goal-shy attack of every side that has gone on a long winless run dream of?

A: The sight of the Newcastle Utd back four.

In truth, though, it wasn't just the defence that cost us the points on Saturday afternoon - as Glenn Roeder admitted afterwards, we were "flat" all over the pitch. Hugely disappointing, given that our four previous Premiership trips to the capital this season had gleaned a very respectable seven points, only champions Chelsea managing to beat us.

Roeder made only one change from the side that burst out of the blocks and then clung on desperately against Villa on Wednesday. New loan signing Oguchi Onyewu made his debut, with Steven Taylor going to right back and Stephen Carr displacing Paul Huntington on the opposite flank.

In a terrible first half Taylor and Onyewu it was who came closest to giving us the lead. At last prompted into action by a Wayne Routledge shot that dipped over Steve Harper's crossbar just before half-time, we surged upfield and won a corner, from which Taylor's low shot was superbly parried by stand-in 'keeper Jan Lastuvka and our American centre-back saw his follow-up deflected over the bar from close range by compatriot Carlos Bocanegra.

That should have been enough to convince us that, if we raised our game after the break, the points were there for the taking. But the torpor prevailed, to such an extent that four minutes into the second period a sleepwalking Nicky Butt played a suicidal back pass that Heidar Helguson expertly volleyed over the advancing Harper.

It was the gift the Cottagers needed, and, with their confidence flooding back, there was only ever going to be one winner. Michael Brown's shot faded away wide of the far post at the last instant and James Milner did well to divert an effort from Bocanegra off the line and over the bar. Titus Bramble did his best to produce a cock-up worse than Butt's, but some typically sloppy control and a cynical tug back on Helguson merited only a yellow card.

The in-form Milner - one of the only players in black and white to bother turning up - brushed the side netting with a low curled free kick which had Lastuvka scrambling across his line, but substitute Papa Bouba Diop settled it, winning the ball on the flank and easily outmuscling Carr to pull back for Brian McBride to apply the cute finish.

Harper saved well from Helguson before Nobby Solano came off the bench to supply Obafemi Martins with the first decent bit of service he'd had all day, the Nigerian duly firing home his ninth Premiership goal of the season - but we didn't have time to claim the equaliser our performance had in no way deserved.

The result dropped us to tenth, and we need to start putting some back-to-back victories together to consolidate our mid-table position. On that kind of display, European qualification looks a very long way off.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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