Fulham have had a fine return to the Premier League, but gnawing away at their heart will be the knowledge that it could have been even better. Marco Silva’s men remain in the dizzying heights of sixth but Aleksandar Mitrovic could have marked his return to Newcastle with a winner had his penalty not been disallowed for two touches as he slipped at the critical moment and even the consolation prize of a point slipped away in the last minute when Alexander Isak headed in the simplest goal he’ll ever score after Callum Wilson had kept alive a Sean Longstaff cross. It was the fourth time Fulham had lost in the 89th minute or later against a top four side this term and a seething Silva was shown a yellow card for remonstrating with Rob Jones after the final whistle.
Had Mitrovic’s bizarre penalty – that ended up in the net via his right and then left foot – stood, Silva might well have followed the fabulous win over Chelsea on Thursday night with a classic smash and grab raid at St. James’ Park. Defeat felt harsh on Fulham., who had 48 hours less than their hosts to prepare for this fixture and had forced Eddie Howe to throw on attacking substitutes in a desperate attempt to avoid three successive scoreless league stalemates for the first time since 1980. The denouement was doubly devastating for Issa Diop, who had been immense at the heart of the visiting back line, but failed to track Wilson’s run to the far post. The ball broke off the England forward, then the Fulham defender and ballooned up for Isak to nod into an unguarded goal.
Silva’s rage on the touchline grew gradually threw the added time that followed. Both he and Luis Boa Morte got increasingly worked up about the fourth official’s tardiness in permitting Fulham to make a triple change – and then watched as Newcastle used up an age with changes of their own. Jones played only a couple of minutes beyond the five minutes that were displayed – despite a number of other stoppages – and Boa Morte found himself in the unfamiliar role of peacemaker in the centre circle. The Portuguese pair’s frustration was palpable; probably because the Londoners had the opportunity to win this game in the palm of their hands and fluffed it.
Jones, in the midst of an erratic refereeing performance, had missed Kieron Trippier’s foul on Bobby Decordova-Reid after waving away a shout for a penalty when Dan Burn appeared to haul down Andreas Pereira. It took the video assistant referee to rectify matters and Mitrovic had to wait an age to take the spot-kick, with gamemanship from Nick Pope and Trippier’s trenchant protests delaying matters. It had initially appeared as though Pereira, who scored from the spot in Mitrovic’s absence at Manchester City in November, might step up again – and Fulham may well rueing his failure to do so.
The visitors had started brightly, underlining their intention not just to nullify Newcastle but to embrace another opportunity to shine on the big stage. Several spearmint shirts got forward to support Mitrovic in the early stages, with Kenny Tete spooning a shot high into the Gallowgate End, as the Magpies struggled initially to assert themselves on proceedings. Diop did produce a brilliant block to thwart Longstaff before Bernd Leno spread himself to deny Callum Wilson twice and the hosts’ hopes were not helped by Bruno Guimaraes limping off in tears at half-time having bravely battled an ankle problem for much of the first period.
Newcastle gained a great deal of joy down the right flank but Trippier’s teasing deliveries were uncharacteristically off target for much of the afternoon. He wasted one free-kick from a promising position before the break and that prompted Fabian Schar to assert his right as skipper to take the next one. The tall defender took everyone by surprise and struck the base of Leno’s far post before Miguel Almiron’s follow-up was deflected wide.
Mitrovic was already celebrating a first goal against his former employers when Jones chalked off his spot-kick – and that only served to raise the decibel levels inside St. James’ Park. It looked as if Newcastle would be frustrated by a diligent Fulham defensive display, especially after Allan Saint-Maximim shot wide following unselfish forward play by Wilson. But their luck changed in the last minute. Trippier teed up Longstaff for a deep cross and Wilson’s header deflected off Diop and left Isak with the whole goal into which to plant a close-range header. The punishing nature of the Premier League penalises any mistake – but the Whites shouldn’t be too downcoast after another afternoon of admirable endeavour.
NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-3-3): Pope; Trippier, Burn, Schar, Botman; S. Longstaff, J. Willock (Isak 71), Guimaraes (Saint-Maximin 45); Almiron (Jacob Murphy 85), Joelinton, C. Wilson (Wood 90+6). Subs (not used): Dubravka, Lewis, Manquillo, Lascelles, Ritchie.
GOAL: Isak (89).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Leno; Tete, Kurzawa, Diop (Vinicius 90+2), Ream; Palhinha, Reed (Cairney 90+2); Decordova-Reid (H. Wilson 90+2), Willian (James 77), Pereira (Adarabioyo 77); Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Chalobah, Harris, Solomon.
BOOKED: Kurzawa, Ream, Pereira.
REFEREE: Rob Jones (Merseyside).