Damien Duff came back to haunt his former club as the veteran Irish winger grabbed the winning goal to condemn Newcastle United to defeat in a tight contest at Craven Cottage.
Duff’s decisive moment came midway through the second half when he provided a touch of quality to illuminate a cold evening by the River Thames. He brought down a forward pass from Danny Murphy expertly, brushed aside the attentions of Jose Enrique and fired clinically past Steve Harper from twelve yards out. The visiting goalkeeper had made two excellent saves to deny Clint Dempsey as Fulham dominated proceedings.
Newcastle were nothing like as threatening with Mark Schwarzer only really tested by a turn and shot from Nile Ranger in a display that visibly disappointed Alan Pardew. The Magpies were largely lifeless in the first half, lacking a cutting edge in the absence of Andy Carroll up front and forced into further reorganisation when Shola Ameobi sustained a fractured cheekbone in a challenge with Steve Sidwell after just fifteen minutes. It was no surprise that Fulham enjoyed the better of the chances, with Dempsey driving the best opportunity wastefully over the bar from six yards.
The visitors went closest when Joey Barton’s teasing free-kick flashed wide off the head of Sidwell, but there was at least more goalmouth action after the interval. Harper did brilliantly to scramble away a low shot from Dempsey after the American had created space for himself inside the penalty area and Duff dragged wide from the rebound. Leon Best was inches away from connecting with a cross from Jonas Gutierrez before heading another delivery over the bar moments later.
Fulham were seeing much more of the ball and the classy Mousa Demble was becoming much more influential. The Belgian had already carved open the Newcastle defence to provide Dempsey with a sight of goal and he produced a sublime through ball to put the Texan clear again – only for Harper to palm Dempsey’s drive over the crossbar. But Newcastle could only hold for so long and there was an inevitability about Duff, booed throughout by the visiting fans, breaking the deadlock.
Mark Hughes’ men probably should have made the scoreline more comfortable in the closing stages but Harper was an inspired presence between the sticks. Gael Kakuta made an encouraging cameo as a late substitute and prised open the visiting defence to play Dempsey clear on goal, only for Harper to deny the onrushing midfielder. Kakuta then almost finished a flowing move as his own shot from five yards was blocked, before Harper denied Dembele a deserved goal right at the death.
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Baird, Hughes, Hangeland; Sidwell, Murphy (Gera 87), Duff (Davies 87), Dempsey; Dembele; A. Johnson (Kakuta 71). Subs (not used): Stockdale, Salcido, Greening, Kamara.
GOAL: Duff (67).
NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-4-2): Harper; Simpson, Enrique, Williamson, Coloccini; Barton, Nolan, Guthrie, Gutierrez; Best (Lovenkrands 72), Ameobi (Ranger 13). Subs (not used): Krul, Campbell, Perch, S. Ferguson, Richardson.
BOOKED: Simpson, Nolan, Guthrie.
REFEREEE: Mike Jones (Cheshire).