Charles N’Zogbia rescued a point for ten-man Newcastle curling some a sublime free-kick to prevent Fulham from leaving St. James’ Park with all three points.
Michael Owen’s debut had turned into a damp squib long before the French teenager stepped off the bench to finally beat Tony Warner with a fabulous set-piece strike. Graeme Souness fielded more than £33m worth of summer acquisitions but Fulham not only nullified the new-look Newcastle front line of Alan Shearer and Owen, but played the better football and should have added to Brian McBride’s well-taken opener.
Any hope of the home side building on N’Zogbia’s moment of magic evaporated when Scott Parker received a second yellow card seven minutes from time. The St. James’ Park faithful arrived expecting £17m man Owen to begin his Newcastle career in style alongside his old England captain but, where Owen hardly had a kick, the Geordies’ favourite son had a rare off day after being denied early on by Tony Warner.
Souness’ side looked calamitous at the back, with Steed Malbranque and Claus Jensen picking forward passes out for fun. A shocking backpass from Steven Taylor allowed Tomasz Radzinski and Luis Boa Morte, who was the subject of a prolonged summer transfer pursuit by the Magpies, to set up Brian McBride, whose path to goal was further eased by an untimely slip from Jean-Alain Boumsong.
It might have been even worse for Newcastle had Shay Given not smothered a bending drive from Papa Bouba Diop and the Irish international then bailed out Titus Bramble by blocking from Radzinski right at the start of the second half. N’Zogbia scrambled a Diop header off the line and McBride might have done better than head straight at Given after Boumsong ended up on the floor again.
Amdy Faye fired an optimistic 25-yarder straight at Warner but Fulham looked likely to add to their lead, with Boa Morte and McBride both going close on the counter attack. Collins John should have made the game safe when his very first touch took him past Bramble but the Dutch teenager shot wide.
Stephen Carr, operating in midfield, rattled a powerful drive against the crossbar but Newcastle got out of jail when N’Zogbia curled a magnificent free-kick past Warner after Boa Morte had brought down Owen just outside the area. That set up an intriguing finish, but Newcastle nearly lost it again after Parker was sent off for tugging back Claus Jensen and the Dane’s terrific free-kick came back off the Newcastle bar.
NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-4-2): Given; Taylor (Bowyer 45), Boumsong, Bramble, Babayaro; Carr, Faye (Clark 72), Parker, Luque (N’Zogbia 35); Shearer, Owen. Subs (not used): Harper, Elliott,
BOOKED: Parker, Faye, Bowyer, Clark.
SENT OFF: Parker.
GOAL: N’Zogbia (78).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Warner; Volz, N. Jensen, Knight, Bocanegra; Diop, C. Jensen, Malbranque, Boa Morte; McBride (Helguson 81), Radzinski (John 70). Subs (not used): Batista, Christanval, Elrich.
GOAL: McBride (13).
REFEREE: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire).