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Hey, we’re not here to be popular, we’re here to compete

1 year ago
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I wondered ahead of this one if, when we look back on this season in May, this might be talked about as a pivotal game.

Now Newcastle United are punching at the top end of the table, a small drawback is that relatively benign results can have an adverse affect. The draws against Leeds and Arsenal meant that Man Utd had moved ominously into view, starting the day ahead of us after their dodgy Saturday win.

The challenge for us was to face up to a Fulham side flying high in sixth place and on a run of five straight wins. A win could open up a solid gap to those below. Anything less and we could have been out of a CL place, with recent form that suggests we can’t beat anyone who isn’t Leicester.

The big talking point pre-match was around whether Joelinton’s midweek idiocy would (or should) cost him his place in the team. Apparently a call Howe didn’t take lightly, but the Brazilian started and was straight out of the blocks, winning the ball in what I believe is known as a crunching tackle, within 30 seconds of the kick off. This set the tone for 90 minutes of midfield power play that proved that Big Joe wasn’t feeling any mental ill-effects from his brush with the law.

It did seem ominous that United had the same problem that had frustrated in recent low to non-scoring games, as they controlled play and possession but couldn’t carve out clear shooting opportunities. Sean Longstaff, guilty of some wild misses of late, had the first real chance as Bruno’s perfectly weighted ball set him through. The shot ended up in the Leazes stand, but it was down to Issa Diop’s excellent block, as opposed to any fault on Longstaff’s part.

The best chances of the rest of the half fell to Callum Wilson, who was repeatedly denied by Leno in the Fulham goal in alarming echoes of Meslier’s heroics in the Leeds stalemate. First, a fairly routine header from a corner was close enough for the keeper to collect comfortably, then Wilson got power on his shot when sent through by Schar, but the angle favoured Leno and allowed him to palm away. Finally, a smart turn by Wilson opened up the defence and created an opportunity that he should have put away, with the shot too close to the keeper and lacking the power to carry it in. The stench of another 0-0 was starting to pollute the air.

As half time drew near, it was obvious that another, alarming problem beyond this game was facing Newcastle. Bruno had gone down after a seemingly innocuous challenge and needed lengthy treatment on his ankle. When he returned to the pitch it seemed like panic over, just a knock that he could run off. However, the following ten minutes of hobbling and wincing with pain showed that this was something more serious was afoot and Howe belatedly withdrew him as the half ended. Pictures later showed a nasty ankle roll and Bruno left St James with on crutches with a protective boot on, to an unwelcome backdrop of the manager saying a subsequent scan would be needed to show the extent of the damage.

This is bad news ahead of two big away games at Palace and Southampton. I think our consistent good form on the road is heavily influenced by Bruno’s excellent displays in the centre as clubs obliged to go for it on their own patch find their attacks dismantled and quickly countered. This is less prominent at home, where everyone just sits back, but the hope has to be, that this is the lesser end of the scale. That massive trip to St Mary’s is the one that is on everyone’s mind but is almost certainly out of the question. A more reasonable hope would be that we can overcome the Saints without our talisman, and Bruno can have a bigger date to aim to return for, at the end of February…

In the context of this match though, it may have even worked to our benefit if anything. The introduction of Allan Saint-Maximin sent Fulham into a panic, as they struggled to cope with him dancing down the left while the Almiron / Trippier combination did its thing on the right. Longstaff was having an excellent game, covering ground and picking up pieces that meant Bruno’s absence in the centre wasn’t felt, but that breakthrough still eluded United.

In the opening moments of the second half, Ream poleaxed the marauding Joelinton to give away a tantalising free kick that had everyone naturally shouting for Trippier. Instead it was Schar who maybe caught Fulham out, getting stunning power from a short run up and smashing in a howitzer that hammered off the post, with Almiron just unable to make anything of the rebound. More feeling that it could be another one of those days.

This feeling got worse as a Fulham counter attack seemed to create havoc in the box. There were a couple of coming togethers but the ref gave nothing and United countered themselves with Almiron failing to get a shot off after an excellent driving run. However, the VAR was to intervene and we knew we were in trouble when the ref went over to the pitchside monitor.

TV pictures showed later that Burn had indeed pulled back Pereira in the box, but the Fulham man’s oversold dive probably helped the ref decide it was a nonsense. Burn maybe needs to watch this though, as this is the second time of late he’s got away with one following a near-identical situation at Arsenal. However, the visitors recovered the ball and Trippier’s challenge on Decordova-Reid was deemed to be the one that merited a penalty.

There were a number of wrongs here, that ultimately evened themselves out. Decordova-Reid had stood on Trippier’s ankle as the first contact, and this was not a legitimate pen, with the problem arising again of pitchside replays inexplicably failing to show the crucial angle. However, the Burn one clearly was, so we’ll let them off. The Fulham manager felt he had the right to complain despite getting the penalty, as he thought Burn should have been sent off, but surely there’s the “double jeopardy” rule where you can’t get a red when a penalty is given unless it’s serious foul play? The fact that Longstaff was arguably covering would double down on that, but Silva was clearly just in a paddy because of the right old mess Mitrovic made of the pen.

I think most of the ground just dropped their heads when our former striker seemed to send Pope the wrong way, before running off and celebrating in a way that may just have affected his stock slightly up here. However, Pope was rushing over to the ref, who seemed to be indicating a retake.

I have to say I couldn’t believe the let off when United were awarded a free kick, as it turns out Mitro had slipped and knocked the ball against his standing foot while taking the kick. Double touch, no goal and we breathed again.

Stories would later emerge of some stunning sh.thousery by United, with Wilson allegedly mashing up the penalty spot while the ref dealt with accusations of Fulham having 12 men, which were magnificently contrived and outrageous. There was no substitution ongoing or anything, so this was pure improvisational fantasy, and the mind boggles as to what our squad can come up with in future (“ref, he’s got a knife,”) but hey, we’re not here to be popular, we’re here to compete.

The let-off gave United fresh impetus and they took control of the remainder of the game. ASM put in his best shift since returning from injury, and his smart shot from outside the box had Leno beaten but just went the wrong side of the post.

The introduction of Isak had created an ominous front line that had Fulham reeling, but the lesser vaunted introduction of Murphy was equally as important, as he was about to play a crucial and overlooked role in the game’s finale.

Fulham tried to launch a counter with a long ball to the left wing from the back, but Murphy spotted it and did a brilliant job of intercepting the pass mid-air and releasing Trippier. After an attempt to play in Wilson ultimately came back his way, Tripps laid the ball off to Longstaff who sent a perfectly weighted cross over to Wilson on the back post. His initial header was blocked by Diop, but Wilson coolly sent the second ball past Leno into the middle where Isak was waiting to nod it over the line.

How much do you love a late winner?

Fulham took a strange approach to injury time desperation, with a string of bizarre substitutions, more like the kind of tactic deployed by a winning team looking to run the clock down. They helped us see the game out to massive relief, a big challenge overcome and crucially a return to fitness and a big goal for our record signing. Our attacking options look in rude health finally, but the Bruno situation has added a negative to that.

It may well be that this forces the decision to pursue a midfield reinforcement in the coming couple of weeks. This season has enormous promise, with Palace next week to be navigated before we can focus on the cup run that occupies every second thought for me at the minute.

Palace is also a big match though, as the sides around us continue to all play each other and the opportunities to reinforce our position continue. Arsenal continue to refuse to slip up, but their win against Spurs meant we now have a five point gap to fifth, with our beating the sixth place team doing no harm at all to this stat. While thoughts of a title battle may linger slightly, this seems a tall order, but the prospect of a cup final and improving chances of Champions League qualification have potential for a season beyond the wildest dreams.

Eddie would (and surely did) say we just need to take things one game at a time. After the stunning progress of the last twelve months he must be listened to, as this time last year we had just drawn with Watford to make it one win and 12 points from 20 games. Unbelievable, incredible progress, enjoy and savour it.

Stats from BBC Sport:

Newcastle 1 Fulham 0 – Sunday 15 January 2pm

Goals:

Newcastle United:

Isak 89

Fulham:

(Half-time stats in brackets)

Possession was Fulham 37% (43%) Newcastle 63% (57%)

Total shots were Fulham 5 (2) Newcastle 20 (11)

Shots on target were Fulham 0 (0) Newcastle 5 (4)

Corners were Fulham 5 (2) Newcastle 10 (7)

Referee: Robert Jones

Attendance: 52,247

Newcastle United:

Pope, Trippier, Schar, Botman, Burn, Bruno (Saint-Maximin 45), Longstaff, Willock (Isak 71), Almiron (Murphy 85), Joelinton, Wilson (Wood 90+6)

Unused Subs:

Dubravka, Lascelles, Ritchie, Manquillo, Lewis

(Mike Dean now set to be suspended after Newcastle 1 Fulham 0 VAR shambles at St James’ Park? Read HERE)

(3 Positives and 3 Negatives to take from Newcastle 1 Fulham 0 – Read HERE)

(Newcastle 1 Fulham 0 – Match ratings and comments on all the NUFC players – Read HERE)

(Top four breakaway is now definitely on – Just look at Sunday night Premier League table and upcoming games – Read HERE)

(Bruno Guimaraes injury – Newcastle United official update – Read HERE)

(Marco Silva embarrasses himself as blames match officials for Newcastle 1 Fulham 0 – Read HERE)

(Bruno Guimaraes leaves St James’ Park on crutches with protective boot – Posts personal message to Newcastle fans – Read HERE)

(Newcastle 1 Fulham 0 – The instant NUFC fan / writer reaction – Read HERE)

(Newcastle 1 Fulham 0 : First time seen this happen at St James’ Park – Absolutely remarkable win – Read HERE)

You can follow the author on Twitter @Mr_Dolf

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