Finally my boy has a Newcastle team to be proud of, hopefully for more than one day in the sunshine
Sunshine cracked the pavement as we walked towards the tube station, “it looks like it’s going to be a lovely day Dad.”
We’ll see son, we’ll see.
Long in the tooth I’d lost count of the sunny hopeful days. I’d lost count of the games I’d taken my boy to but I knew exactly how many wins he’d witnessed. Zero. His only moment of hope that solitary 3-3 draw at home to Crystal Palace in 2014, half his lifetime ago.
Today will live long in his memory. I just hope my son’s first win isn’t Rafa and Rondon’s last.
The four-nil scoreline didn’t flatter, from start to finish we exploited Fulham’s familiar frailties. Rafa’s tactics precise and perfect, leaving newly appointed Scotty Parker with no answers to a masterclass in organisation and counter attack.
Hayden, another who sadly may not pull our shirt on again, slotted admirably into right wing back position and continued his excellent form. This freed up a birth in midfield for the returning Shelvey who did not disappoint. Rifling home a great strike from the edge of the area on nine minutes, he then sprinted the length of the pitch to celebrate with the brilliant away fans, clearly a huge release for him after a season of frustration.
I reacted to his strike in a similar way, but being that I was in the contentious ‘neutral’ section I thankfully contained myself before the stewards noticed, and just in time for the Newcastle fans to give us ‘neutrals’ a load of grief and hand signals, something which I tried my best to ignore for the next 83 minutes as it’s quite hard to communicate from distance that you’re not a cockney, not going down, and are fairly sure who your father is.
Within two minutes Ayoze doubled our lead, a poacher’s goal from a fumbled Atsu strike, and Fulham were finished. They were on course to equal their fewest ever wins in a season, and my mind wandered to the frequent poster on this site at the start of the season, the American Newcastle ‘fan’ who had switched his allegiances to follow Mitro at Fulham, being that they played this exciting brand of football. Wonder how that’s worked out for him?
On twenty two minutes Mitrovic had his first sniff of goal, heading wide past the righthand upright from a corner, the away end let him know he was indeed “just a sh.. Saloman Rondon”, and a further touchline discussion with toon fans near the forty minute mark left him walking away shaking his head. Maybe the form of Rondon and Fulham’s decline has underlined Rafa’s decision and finally put to bed the love in with Aleksandar?
Whilst his application and finishing is not open to question, it is clear that his lack of mobility forces the Fulham team to either leave him isolated, or push their supporting players ten or fifteen yards further up the pitch, leaving their wide men over worked and huge gaps in the centre of the pitch. You’ll hear the Mersons of this world applaud his goal scoring in a struggling team, without pinpointing that part of the struggle is down to the team trying to play to his strengths. Whatever Premier League team signs him will face a similar struggle with their blend.
It was this disjointed shape that we waltzed through all day, the team were strong in the tackle, first to every ball, and played with a smile on their face. A team in every sense of the word, every man played his part, with world class coaches on the touchline, three thousand full throated fans, and another year at the top table assured, nothing could go wrong now….oh yes…and Mike Ashley was there. I hope he was taking note.
On fifty seven minutes and fifty seconds we bore witness to the most unlikely event, Fulham’s fans sang a song, their first and only song of the day.
By fifty eight minutes their song was over, and three minutes later so was the contest, the always excellent Ritchie and Schar combining at a corner.
Schar’s towering header in front of the away end, just reward for another stellar performance from the pound for pound best signing of the season.
Fulham had the ball in the net a little after the hour mark but their celebrations were cut short by the linesman’s flag. After that the rest of the game was played out in carnival style, keep ball and humiliation for Fulham, with only their on loan substitute Ryan Babel looking lively, throwing himself into a few meaty challenges. Maybe auditioning for his old mentor on the Newcastle bench.
The last play of our season thankfully belonged to Rondon, you couldn’t have scripted it better. Seconds before the final whistle, in front of the toon fans, a powerful drive after his initial effort came back off the keeper and it was four-nil. Mobbed by his team mates with genuine delight, he eventually broke free from them and conducted his fans with a series of fist pumps in wild celebration. If that is his last touch of a ball for us it is both a fitting finale and a criminal decision by the owner.
We want you to stay. We want you to stay.
Finally my boy has a team to be proud of, hopefully for more than one day in the sunshine.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Fulham 0 Newcastle 4
Shelvey 9, Perez 11, Schar 61, Rondon 90
Possession was Fulham 68% Newcastle 32%
Total shots were Fulham 16 Newcastle 13
Shots on target were Fulham 2 Newcastle 6
Corners were Fulham 5 Newcastle 5
Referee: Kevin Friend
Dubravka, Hayden, (Fernandez 69), Lascelles, Schar, Dummett (Kenedy 81), Ritchie, Diame, Shelvey, Atsu (Muto 66), Perez, Rondon
Darlow, Watts, Cass, Clark
Crowd: 24,979 (2,700 official NUFC and many more in neutral and home areas)
(Alan Shearer salutes, Rafa, team and fans HERE)
(Rafa Benitez spoke to Mike Ashley after final whistle – HERE)
(Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to the game HERE)
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