There wasn’t much final day cheer at Craven Cottage. Only a few weeks ago, Fulham fans would have been contemplating the prospect of a fraught last day showdown against relegation rivals Newcastle United – but Scott Parker’s side crumbled well before a nervy climax became a possibility. The home faithful had to console themselves with a return to Fulham’s historic old home for the first time since before Christmas, but an insipid display only emphasised just how far Fulham have fallen short of staying afloat in the top flight this term.
Parker and the Fulham hierarchy have plenty of questions to ponder in the close season as the club prepares to try and return to English football’s top table at the first time of asking yet again. Chief among them well be whether Parker, whose tactical naivety proved costly in the final weeks of a chastening campaign, will be in charge of another Championship tilt come August. There will be question marks about the composition of Fulham’s squad, especially after the head coach admitted that all of the current loanees will return to their parent clubs in the coming week, whilst the need for significant summer recruitment will focus attention on director of football Tony Khan.
On the field, Fulham have been far too easy to play through in the key moments. This was encapsulated by Newcastle’s opening goal, scored predictably by the in-form Joe Willock, who grabbed his seventh goal in seven Premier League games to match a record held by legendary striker Alan Shearer. The on-loan Arsenal midfielder, whose scoring exploits lifted the Magpies to safety with surprising comfort, carried the ball the best part of seventy yards unchallenged. Only Tim Ream offered the slightest hint of a challenge – from which the ball sat up kindly for Willock to rifle home – but the tracking back of Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa was shambolic.
If that generous defending summed up Fulham’s failings, there was yet more manifestation of their chronic failure to finish in front of goal. The lack of a regular goalscorer has made Parker’s decision to ignore Aleksandar Mitrovic baffling and suggests that the Serbian striker will be looking for pastures new in a matter of weeks. For much of the campaign, Ivan Cavaleiro has operated as a makeshift number nine but if the Portuguese winger had added pace and pressing up front, his finishing fell short of the mark far too often. He spurned Fulham’s best chances here – bending a couple of efforts over the crossbar from presentable positions – and then unforgivably failing to find the target from close range after a brilliant lay-off from Fabio Carvalho.
The talented teenager continued his impressive cameos of recent weeks and looked the most likely source of a Fulham equaliser. Carvalho looked most at home when operating just behind the striker – and provided an injection of both pace and sharpness in the final third. Predictably, the home side dominated the second period but struggled to carve out clear cut chances. There was a league debut for tidy Australian midfielder Tyrese Francois as a late substitute, but the Whites were largely restricted to hopeful potshots from range. Kenny Tete’s speculative effort bounced around in the penalty area but Carvalho couldn’t profit when it dropped towards him – and, in keeping with Fulham’s frustrating season, Newcastle profited from a smash and grab in the dying embers of the contest to double their lead.
It came from the penalty spot, after Tete was penalised for felling Matt Ritchie in the box. The award felt soft but Fabian Schar by effortlessly beating Marek Rodak from twelve yards. That goal lifted Newcastle above Wolves and into twelve on goal difference and a smattering of boos from the home crowd on the final whistle offered a stark reminder of Fulham’s own underwhelming finish. On this evidence, an immediate return to the Premier League next May appears a tall order.
FULHAM (3-4-2-1): Rodak; Tete, Adarabioyo, Ream; Decordova-Reid, Bryan (Francois 76), Anguissa (Loftus-Cheek 45), Onomah; Carvalho, Lookman (Maja 64); Cavaleiro. Subs (not used): Areola, Hector, Aina, Lemina, Jasper.
NEWCASTLE UNITED (5-3-2): Dubravka; J. Murphy, Ritchie, Krafth (Schar 73), Fernandez, Dummett; S. Longstaff, Shelvey, Willock; Almiron (Hendrick 80), Saint-Maximin (Gayle 65). Subs (not used): Gillespie, Clark, Lewis, Manquillo, M. Longstaff, Carroll.
GOALS: Willock (23), Schar (pen 88).
REFEREE: Chris Kavanagh (Lancashire).
VIDEO ASSISTANT REFEREE: Robert Jones (Cheshire).