Alan Shearer sparked a sensational Newcastle comeback as Sir Bobby Robson’s side stormed back from a two-goal deficit to beat Fulham 3-2 at Loftus Road tonight.
The former England captain made one goal for Laurent Robert, lashed home a trademark penalty and then completed the comeback with a typically predatory strike as the Geordies shrugged off a dreadful start in which two of their former players appeared to have given Fulham a comfortable advantage. On a surreal night in Shepherd’s Bush, kick off was delayed by an half hour after police carried out a controlled explosion on a suspicion vehicle – but nobody was complaining about the wait after the fireworks dished up by these two sides.
Fulham began on the front foot – taking the game to Newcastle from the outset. Lee Clark gave Chris Coleman’s side a fifth minute lead with a brilliant individual goal. Aaron Hughes failed to deal with a hopeful forward ball, allowing Steed Malbranque to dart in from the left flank and locate Clark in a more central position. The midfielder, who spent seven years at St. James’ Park turned in an instant and fired a blistering finish into the far corner to give the hosts a perfect start.
Within three minutes, Fulham had doubled their lead. Sylvain Legwinski floated a high ball up to the edge of the box, where Louis Saha brought it down, outfoxed Titus Bramble and rifled an unstoppable drive across Shay Given. The Frenchman’s strike was reminiscent of the ones he produced under Jean Tigana in Division One – and Coleman’s men looked to be in complete control.
That impressed proved to be misleading. Shearer, who assumed a starring role in front of the England manager Sven Goran Eriksson, brought Newcastle back into the contest after an quarter of an hour. He teed up Laurent Robert after bringing down Shola Ameobi’s right-wing cross and the mercurial French winger almost burst Edwin van der Sar’s net with a fierce finish. Both Shearer and Bramble went close before the interval, with the veteran striker uncharacteristically losing control of the ball in front of goal when he appeared poised to bring Newcastle level.
The Newcastle number nine quickly atoned for that lack of composure after the break. Former Newcastle defender Alain Goma clumsily brought down Ameobi in the area and Shearer sent van der Sar the wrong way from twelve yards out. He was in the right place at the right time to put Newcastle ahead in the 56th minute when Zat Knight’s tackle on Jermaine Jenas saw the ball break for Shearer in front of goal and he finished convincingly from eight yards out.
Fulham looked crestfallen at the loss of their winning position but rallied to try and force an equaliser. Mark Pembridge miscued a drive from inside the penalty area and Saha forced Shay Given into a fine save. Bramble produced a brilliant bit of defending to deny the hosts late on, clearing from underneath his own crossbar after substitute Junichi Inamoto had beaten Given with a rising drive. Inamoto then created another opportunity for Legwinski, but Given did brilliantly to save the French midfielder’s effort with his feet.
FULHAM (4-3-3): van der Sar; Leacock, Bonnissel, Knight, Goma; Pembridge (Inamoto 79), Legwinski, Clark; Malbranque, Buari (Hayles 45), Saha. Subs (not used): Crossley, Melville, Djetou.
BOOKED: Pembridge, Legwinski.
GOALS: Clark (5), Saha (8).
NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-4-2): Given; Hughes, Bernard, O’Brien, Bramble; Jenas, Speed, Bowyer, Robert (Ambrose 87); Shearer, Ameobi. Subs (not used): Harper, S. Caldwell, Lua-Lua, Viana.
BOOKED: Speed, Bowyer.
REFEREE: Barry Knight (Kent).