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Duff and Rodallega down Newcastle

Two assists from former Ireland international Damien Duff helped Fulham end their long wait for a win as Hugo Rodallega’s header proved enough to dispatch of Newcastle 2-1 in an entertaining encounter at Craven Cottage.

The Colombian’s goal was the difference in a tight affair by the Thames in which the west Londoners ensured their winless streak would not stretch to an eighth match.

Fulham came into the game without a victory since mid-October but got off to an ideal start when Steve Sidwell’s 19th-minute strike deflected off Mike Williamson and looped in.

It was the Cottagers’ first goal in 317 minutes and they would have had several more was it not for some poor finishing and the fine form of goalkeeper Tim Krul.

Newcastle, though, were proving an increasing threat and Sascha Riether twice cleared off the line, before the returning Hatem Ben Arfa drew the visitors level in the 54th minute with a deflected effort.

However, Fulham were not to be denied and, nine minutes after the Magpies had drawn parity, Rodallega headed home a free-kick by former United midfielder Damien Duff to secure the hosts all three points.

The Whites made five changes for tonight’s game and started brightly, with off-balance winger Alex Kacaniklic putting wide after just 55 seconds.

It was the first of a number of early Fulham half chances, although the Magpies soon settled.

After a few warning shots, Papiss Cisse collected a poor Mark Schwarzer clearance and came close to finding Demba Ba.

The chance seemed to jolt Fulham into life and Rodallega came close with an acrobatic strike after collecting a ball from Duff.

The pair linked up again in the 19th minute as Fulham ended their goal drought as the latter pulled back for Sidwell, whose strike took a deflection off Williamson and looped over Krul.

After waiting more than five hours for a goal, Fulham fans almost got to witness two in as many minutes.

Dimitar Berbatov cut out a weak Cheick Tiote pass and burst past Fabricio Coloccini at the halfway line, only for Krul to thwart the Fulham frontman when through on goal.

The former Manchester United striker was again denied by Krul in the 29th minute.

After only managing to palm a fierce Riether cross into the path of Berbatov, the Netherlands international did well to recover and deny the Bulgarian before Williamson cleared.

It begun a spell of Newcastle pressure that saw them come close to levelling in the 31st minute, with Riether having to clear a powerful Coloccini header from the edge of the box off the line.

Newcastle were again cursing the German right-back on the stroke of half-time when he again denied them on the line, with Ba the man frustrated this time.

The visitors continued in the ascendancy when the second half resumed, with Anita – managed by Fulham’s Martin Jol during the pair’s time at Ajax – flashed a 47th-minute strike just over the bar.

Berbatov fired into the side-netting when Fulham returned to the attack, before Schwarzer looked on as Ben Arfa struck a 54th-minute equaliser.

The Frenchman marked his return to the starting line-up after four games out with a goal from 22 yards that curled in off the crossbar.

The strike took a slight deflection off John Arne Riise but Schwarzer arguably should have done better, raising further questions about the Australian after a few mistakes of late.

Opposite number Krul was having no such problems and did well to deny Sidwell as he searched for a second.

The Netherlands international was soon beaten, though, as Duff floated in a cross from the right and Rodallega nodded home unmarked from six yards.

Berbatov saw penalty appeals waved away soon after the 63rd-minute header, before Fulham sat back and waited for chances on the counter-attack.

Coloccini flicked clear as Berbatov threatened, before the Newcastle captain saw an exquisite curled strike hit the crossbar at the other end.

Substitute Shola Ameobi, Ba and Jonas Gutierrez were all denied by Schwarzer as United pushed for a leveller, before Aaron Hughes blocked a late Ba strike.

Berbatov was denied a deserved goal as the game came to a close and substitute Mladen Petric fired close from distance.

Jol pleased by Duff’s international retirement

Fulham manager Martin Jol admitted Damien Duff’s decision to quit international football is a weight off his mind.

The Fulham winger opted to retire from the Republic of Ireland side after gaining his 100th cap in this summer’s European Championships.

Duff, 33, has started the campaign on fire, with three goals in seven games – already more than last season’s total in the Premier League.

Fulham lost midfielder Mahamadou Diarra to injury while away on international duty last month, and Jol says Duff’s decision to retire is one less thing for him to worry about.

“Of course, there’s always a risk of an injury when you play these games,” said the Dutchman.

“I think he’s got to a hundred games and he decided to call it a day, so I won’t say I’m happy he did that but it’s certainly got a few advantages.”

However, he reckons Duff’s flying start to the season has nothing to do with missing out on international fixtures.

The Dubliner made a massive 56 appearances for club and country last year, but Jol insists he has no worries about his fitness.

He added: “I feel there’s no difference with Damien [whether he plays for Ireland or not].

“We played a lot of games in Europe and I could always play him. When you get a bit older you normally give them a rest but I needed them all the time.”

Jol will be hoping for a clean bill health when his players return from international duty next week ahead of the home clash with Aston Villa.

Damien Duff: 350 not out

Fulham's Damien Duff made his 350th Premier League appearance yesterday

After a European Championships that he’s still ‘trying to forget’ and the prospect of young wingers like Alex Kacaniklic and Kerim Frei pushing him hard for a place in Fulham first team, you could have forgiven Damien Duff for taking it easy during pre-season. But relaxing is something the wily winger will do with his young family on the south Dublin mountains when he finally hangs up those boots that graced a top flight touchline for the 350th time yesterday as Duff delivered what’s all too easily expected of him these days – an energetic examination of another unfortunate full back – during Fulham’s fine win over West Brom.

A clinicial team performance, which ended Albion’s outstanding unbeaten start to the new season under Steve Clarke, was enlivened by Duff’s driving runs down the right, where he was joined in attack by the overlapping Sascha Riether. The emergence of Kacaniklic, who is showing all the promise he displayed during his eye-catching stint in Liverpool’s youth team, means that Duff has been switched across to the right flank, where he made such an impact as an inverted winger after being reuinited with Roy Hodgson, who gave a teenage Duff his first extended taste of Premier League football after the Irish youngster had sparkled on his debut on the last day of the 1996/97 season against Leicester.

Some were foolish enough to question whether Duff still had the hunger for the game when he arrived at Motspur Park having endured a difficult end to his time on Tyneside. The man who has won two Premier League titles, two League Cups, the InterToto Cup, reached a European club final and retired from international duty after reaching a century of caps for the Republic of Ireland – having been named in the UEFA team of the year after his terrific 2002 World Cup, – also has to live with being credited with the goal that sent Newcastle down having diverted Gareth Barry’s drive into his own net at Villa Park. Duff, who was pressed into service as a makeshift full-back during Alan Shearer’s desperate attempt to save the Geordies from the drop, jumped at the chance to return to the top flight with Hodgson and was literally jumping with his excitement as he waited to make his Fulham debut against Amkar Perm in the early rounds of that famous European odyssey. His impact was immediate, surging down the right flank and creating a crucial goal for Bobby Zamora.

Duff’s professionalism – and his unquenchable thirst for success – makes him the ideal mentor for the likes of Kacaniklic and Frei, who are still getting used to the high-octane world of Premier League football. That’s not to say that the 33 year-old should solely be thought of an elder statesmen offering advice from the sidelines. He might not quite have the astonishing turn of speed that, when paired with the similarly unstoppable Arjen Robben on the opposite flank, made Jose Mourinho’s debut season in English football so special but someone with Duff’s intelligence has the ability to shine even when shorn of what might appear a criticial attribute. He still has more than enough pace to worry the country’s best defenders and has retained the invaluable asset of delivering a dangerous dead ball.

Perhaps spurred on by the thought of what might have been in Poland, Duff has started this season in sensational form. His clever finish agaisnt Norwich – darting from a conventional right winger’s position to reach John Arne Riise’s crosffield pass in the blink of an eye – got Fulham’s campaign off to a fine start and he produced another accurate strike to put the Whites ahead at Old Trafford before the Manchester United rearguard had woken up. Even when things haven’t gone quite to plan – most notably at Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham – Duff’s work rate is impeccable and the support he offers the full-back behind him remains outstanding.

There was a nice symmetry in the Ballyboden boy being replaced yesterday by Alex Smith, for whom Fulham have such high hopes. The Fulham academy graduate, like many of his contemporaries, could learn an awful lot from just watching Damien Duff. I hope to have the pleasure of watching an old-fashioned winger go about his work from the Hammersmith End for a few more seasons yet.

Duff retires from international football

Republic of Ireland and Fulham winger Damien Duff has retired from international football.

The 33-year-old has won 100 caps since making his debut in 1998 but has now informed coach Giovanni Trapattoni he no longer wishes to be considered for selection.

Duff told the Football Association of Ireland’s website: “I found it very difficult to make this decision, not least for the respect in which I hold Giovanni Trapattoni. I have enjoyed so many good times in the green jersey and want to thank everyone involved, especially the fans for making the last 14 years so special.

“I want to wish Giovanni, Marco and everyone involved with the Irish team every success for the future and will be supporting them every step of the way.”

Fulham winger Duff captained Ireland in their last Euro 2012 group game against Italy.

Trapattoni said: “Damien will be missed by us and by Irish fans everywhere. He was immensely skilful and a great example to the players who come after him. I give him my warmest best wishes for his future career.”

Duff joined Blackburn as a trainee in 1996 and stayed until 2003, spending three seasons at Chelsea and Newcastle before signing for Fulham in 2009.

He made his senior debut for the Republic against the Czech Republic alongside Robbie Keane.

Paddy McCaul, president of the FAI said: “Damien produced some moments of unforgettable magic on the pitch that will remain with Irish fans forever. We thank him for his enormous dedication over the last 14 years.”

John Delaney, chief executive added: “I have no doubt that Damien Duff will go down in history as one of Ireland’s greatest ever players. He has been an extraordinary servant to his country and has given us all some wonderful memories as well as being a true gentleman. Thank you Damien and all the best for the future.”

Kelly: Duff can keep going

Stephen Kelly has backed Fulham team-mate Damien Duff to continue ‘doing the business for club and country’.

The experienced Irishman scored the opening goal in Saturday’s 5-0 thrashing of Norwich, but is mulling over his future with the national side following their Euro 2012 campaign, where he earned his 100th cap for the Boys in Green.

Boss Giovanni Trapattoni is keen to have the wing wizard on board as they begin their quest for qualification for the World Cup 2014 next month, despite leaving him out of the squad for last week’s friendly with Serbia.

The 33-year-old made 43 appearances for the Whites last season, along with another 13 for his country.

And Kelly sees no reason why his compatriot can’t continue performing at the top level for Fulham and the Republic.

He told the Fulham Chronicle: “I think Damien can still do the business for club and country. His passion for the game is still there and his energy levels are fantastic.

“He’s hungry and I don’t think fitness will be a problem for him. Playing games won’t be a problem for him, it’s just whether he wants to continue playing [for his country] or not.

“He’s had a long career and it’s just a question of whether he wants to finish on [a high of reaching] a major tournament.”