An outstanding goal from Laurent Robert helped Newcastle to a comfortable win over Fulham at St. James’ Park tonight.
An impudent backheel from the mercurial French winger put the gloss on a straightforward Newcastle victory as Robert started and finished a sweeping move on a miserable night in the north east for Chris Coleman. Terrible defending handed Newcastle a 2-0 lead in the first half with Andy O’Brien punishing some slack marking at a set play and Gary Speed powering home Nolberto Solano’s corner.
Robert’s potential goal of the season contender rubbed salt in Fulham’s wounds after half-time, with Coleman already contemplating life after Louis Saha. The former Newcastle striker was left out ahead of his impending move to Manchester United but Barry Hayles was forced to feed off scraps during an underwhelming Fulham display. The Jamaican international’s clearest opening was all his own work as he fashioned a shooting chance with clever footwork before Oliver Bernard’s challenge snuffed out the danger.
Newcastle were in front as early as the fourth minute when Gary Speed caused chaos at the near post from a Solano corner. Jonathan Woodgate sent the ball back across goal and, although Alan Shearer’s shot was blocked, O’Brien swivelled to ram home the loose ball. More crazy marking allowed the Magpies to extend their lead five minutes before half time as Speed arrived at the near post to head past van der Sar.
Fulham were indebted to van der Sar for keeping the contest competitive as he repelled two Robert efforts and twice denied Solano with his legs. But he had no chance with Robert’s brilliant goal, which finished a flowing move that the winger had started himself. Robert drove infield from the left and found Jermaine Jenas, who located Kieron Dyer, and when the England international crossed, Robert brilliantly brought the ball down with his back to goal and flicked an outrageous finish beyond van der Sar with his heel.
Fulham found a consolation through Sean Davis’ third goal of the season that rattled in off the post – but it was Newcastle who claimed all three points to move up to fifth place in the table, four points behind Charlton Athletic.
NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-3-3): Given; Hughes, Bernard, Woodgate, O’Brien; Jenas, Speed, Dyer; Robert (Viana 84), Solano (Ambrose 84), Shearer (Ameobi 84). Subs (not used): Harper, Bramble.
GOALS: O’Brien (4), Speed (40), Robert (54).
FULHAM (4-3-3): van der Sar; Djetou, Bocanegra, Goma, Knight; Legwinski (Volz 18), Davis, Clark; Malbranque, Boa Morte, Hayles (Sava 66). Subs (not used): Crossley, Green, Petta.
GOAL: Davis (74).
REFEREE: Neale Barry (North Lincolnshire).