So soon after scoring his first-ever hat-trick, Clint Dempsey followed up with the first treble by an American in the Premier League as Fulham recorded a vital win over Newcastle this afternoon. The Texan’s second half intervention was desperately needed too after a wretched first half performance from Martin Jol’s side and Newcastle’s newly-discovered defensive discipline looked set to ensure another frustrating afternoon for the Cottagers.
During a first half in which Alan Pardew’s side looked sprightly and saw plenty of the ball, it looked as though they hardly missed striker Demba Ba and midfielder Cheick Tiote, who have headed off for the African Cup of Nations. Pardew employed a fluid 4-3-3 with the impressive Hatem Ben Arfa drifting off the right wing to great effect, whilst Danny Guthrie and Yohann Cabaye comfortably won the midfield battle. In truth, the Magpies could have been two or three up at half time. Shola Ameobi should have done better with a header at the back post and Fabricio Coloccini fired straight at David Stockdale from seven yards out having sauntered up field. There were also a couple of lapses in communication between Senderos and Stockdale with the Swiss defender twice heading balls that his goalkeeper had come to claim into dangerous areas.
It was something of a surprise that Newcastle had to wait until just before the break to take the lead. Danny Guthrie’s first Premier League goal in more than three years was well worth the wait, though: a rasping drive from 2o yards that flew over a helpless Stockdale after Ben Arfa had robbed the disappointing Bryan Ruiz. Fulham offered little until Andy Johnson replaced the injured Steve Sidwell and it was the substitute who offered a sign of things to come when he burst over the half-way line on the stroke of half-time and was pulled down by Davide Santon. The Italian was lucky Mike Williamson had enough pace to become a covering defender, otherwise the yellow card he received might have been a red.
The introduction of Chris Baird, always reliable at the heart of midfield, for Ruiz at half-time offered much more stability and Fulham were rampant in the second half. Their equaliser, which arrived courtesy of a coolly taken Danny Murphy penalty, might have had a touch of fortune about it. Santon fouled Duff on the edge of the box as the former Newcastle winger attempted to control a through ball, but the Irishman tumbled in the area with no advantage forthcoming. Pardew wasn’t convinced and Tim Krul engaged in a spot of gamemanship with the Fulham captain, but Murphy’s spot-kick was flawless: his 10th successive Premier League penalty in a row.
The home side suddenly had no shortage of movement. Johnson and Bobby Zamora were occupying Newcastle’s overworked centre backs whilst Duff and Dempsey marauded in field from the flanks. Krul spread himself well to save a Zamora snapshot at point-blank range and then recovered to somehow tip over Baird’s follow-up. The second goal was coming and arrived from a swift counter-attack. Johnson carried the ball forward and sent Zamora scampering clear. The England striker bore down on goal, cutting inside a sliding Coloccini, only for Krul to make a splendid save. The rebound merely trickled across goal, striking Dempsey and rolling into the far corner.
The third was a far better finish. After a lovely glancing header from Johnson, Zamora spotted the typical late Dempsey run across the Newcastle back four and the Texan collected the wonderfully weighted ball and drove a low shot across goal and into the far corner. Fulham were rampant. Johnson sped into the box, admirably keeping his feet after a rash challenge from Mike Williamson, only to be brought down by Krul. This time, Zamora drove the spot-kick high into the net.
Newcastle did grab a consolation through the excellent Ben Arfa, who richly deserved his well-taken goal, cutting inside John Arne Riise and firing past Stockdale at his near post, but Dempsey wasn’t done yet. His persistence saw him sprint away from Coloccini and Williamson to reach a lofted ball from Zamora and gallop in on goal to complete his hat-trick. Afterwards, Jol produced a terrific line to sum up his team’s transformation: ‘The first half was sort of Brixton, the second half was a holiday in Jamaica’. It was certainly much better than last weekend’s sorrowful sojourn to Blackburn.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Stockdale; Kelly, J.A. Riise, Hangeland, Senderos; Sidwell (Johnson 37), Murphy; Ruiz (Baird 45), Dempsey (Frei 90), Duff; Zamora. Subs (not used): Etheridge, Briggs, Hughes, Gecov.
GOALS: Murphy (pen 52), Dempsey (59, 65, 89), Zamora (pen 68).
NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-3-3): Krul; Simpson, Santon, Colocinni, Williamson; Guthrie (Perch 76), Cabaye (Gosling 83), Gutierrez; Ben Arfa, Best (R. Taylor 86), Shola Ameobi. Subs (not used): Elliott, Ferguson, Obertan, Lovenkrands.
BOOKED: Santon, Guthrie, Simpson, Krul.
GOAL: Guthrie (43).
REFEREE: Lee Mason (Bolton).