Thursday, May 05, 2005

Cottage industry pays off

And then, from out of nowhere, a decent performance - and, more importantly, a victory.

With both ourselves and Fulham coasting along with nothing to play for except Premiership places and prize money, it was never going to be a particularly significant night at Craven Cottage, but the three points were nevertheless very welcome indeed.

Fulham went into the game off the back of a comprehensive win over Everton at the weekend, and we hadn't won an away match in the Premiership since November, but I felt that, with our remaining fixtures being away to Champions' League chasing Everton and home to champions Chelsea, the match offered our most realistic chance of a final victory of a distinctly underwhelming season.

All the pre-match talk was of Shearer's absence, Souness having since revealed that the skipper actually himself asked to be given a rest. With the number nine not even on the bench, the portly figure of Patrick Kluivert squeezed into a Newcastle shirt for what is likely to be one of the last times to lead the attack. Defensively we were bolstered by the return of Bramble (yes, using the words "bolstered" and "Bramble" in the same sentence still has a strange ring to it...).

Fulham began the game in control but the better chances fell to us. Ambrose, playing on the left side, had already had one shot blocked by Liam Rosenior when, in the 18th minute, he reacted fastest to a loose ball in the box, prodding it past Edwin van der Sar. Another goal, another decent performance - perhaps he has a Newcastle future after all (sorry ChevBlue).

Kluivert had a presentable chance from a Milner cross but couldn't direct his header on target, while at the other end Given had to be alert to deny Andrew Cole, though he got lucky when fellow former Toon player Lee Clark failed to find the back of the unguarded net with his header from the rebound.

The second half conformed to the pattern of the first, Fulham bossing possession but us looking sharper and more dangerous up front. We doubled our lead on 62 minutes, Kluivert taking advantage of some sloppy defending and heading in an N'Zogbia corner at the near post, Mark Pembridge unable to keep the ball out. Is a reprieve, in the shape of a new contract, still a possibility?

As Fulham pressed to get back into the game, we grabbed a decisive third. From another corner, this time delivered by Milner, Ameobi outjumped another former Toon player, Alain Goma. Not only winning comfortably, but also scoring twice from corners - this really was a performance untypical of those we've served up all season.

What wasn't untypical, though, was the way we gave Fulham more than a glimmer of hope towards the end. Tomasz Radzinski latched onto a through-ball and finished neatly, and only a decent save from Given to deny Brian McBride prevented a very nervous finish.

The result went some way to avenging the extraordinary 4-1 home defeat Fulham inflicted on us in November, and alleviated some of the gloom that's been hanging over us for the past few weeks. What we need now is real character and commitment for the last two matches - things that have been in depressingly short supply all season.

Other reports: Talk Of The Tyne, BBC, Guardian


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