Steed Malbranque stepped off the bench to fire Fulham to victory over Newcastle as the French midfielder continued his encouraging comeback from a thigh injury.
Malbranque has been restricted to just two matches in the last month and could only be named as a substitute here but showed no signs of rustiness when he buried the rebound after Shay Given had saved from Collins John after a lightning Fulham counter-attack. Debutant Antti Niemi made two fine saves from Michael Chopa and Lee Bowyer to prolong Newcastle’s miserable run without a league goal away from home to 270 minutes. The pressure continues to build on beleaguered Graeme Souness, with chants demanding his dismissal clearly audible from the away end.
Fulham survived an early scare when Albert Luque escaped down the left and quickly established a firm foothold on the contest. Heidar Helguson should have done better than shoot straight at Given after reaching Tomasz Radzinski’s flick on before the Canadian international saw his rising drive tipped over by Given. Newcastle’s only serious effort of the first half was a strike from Charles N’Zogbia that Niemi easily got behind.
The new Fulham goalkeeper looked nervy under a couple of chances after the break but Alan Shearer couldn’t punish him as he dwelled too long over a shot. Radzinski saw an effort blocked from close range before being withdrawn in favour of Malbranque. After Shearer had extended Niemi, the French midfielder fired an early warning of his threat with a dipping drive that Given did well to gather.
Jean Alain Boumsong almost opened his Newcastle account with twenty minutes to play but Niclas Jensen scrambled the French defender’s effort off the line. The Magpies were opened up from Fulham’s very next attack, which began deep in their own half. A slick move saw John and Malbranque swap passes before the Dutch forward, who tore Newcastle apart at St. James’ Park last season, fired goalwards from a tight angle. Given made a superb reaction save but Malbranque tucked home the follow-up gleefully.
Helguson missed a great chance to wrap up all three points when he thundered a strike against the crossbar and, as Newcastle belatedly through bodies forward, Niemi’s two late stops kept Fulham in front. Boa Morte – a long-term Souness transfer target – nearly compounded the Scot’s misery with a venomous free-kick at the death but his shot cleared the crossbar.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Niemi; Rosenior, N. Jensen, Knight, Pearce; Elliott, Legwinski (John 73), Radzinski, Boa Morte; McBride, Helguson. Subs (not used): Warner, Goma, Volz.
GOAL: Malbranque (75).
NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-5-1): Given; Carr (Elliott 45), Boumsong, Ramage, Babayaro; Solano, Bowyer, Clark, N’Zogbia (Chopra 77), Luque (O’Brien 80); Shearer. Subs (not used): Harper, Brittain.
BOOKED: Clark, Carr.
REFEREE: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire).