Written by Harvey Jamison
First of all everyone, calm down. A 1-0 defeat to Fulham is not the end of the world, it’s just a slight bump in the road to United’s goal of Premier League promotion.
However, the defeat still comes as a disappointment to the Geordie faithful who traveled in their thousands for Newcastle’s opening game of the 2016/17 season – a total of 7,000 Toon fans filled out both the away and neutral stands at Craven Cottage.
It was a reality check for us and, after all the speculation and transfer hype over the last couple of months, the result came as a massive shock to the system as we watched a team who lacked pace and creativity.
The Cottagers ended victorious after a 44th minute Matt Smith header which was darted in the low corner of debutante Matz Sels net.
The Magpies started the game off lively, holding the majority of possession and looked at ease moving the ball across the pitch, whilst looking solid at the back. During the early moments of the game new number 9 Dwight Gayle and Ayoze Perez had chances, but neither were taken.
Sharp after those missed chances Fulham’s biggest threats identified themselves. Sone Aluko, Denis Odoi and Tom Cairney all were in inspired form for a Fulham side which were daring, pacey and relentless.
Full-back Denis Odoi was shown a yellow card after his blatant shove on Perez, just outside the penalty area, with many Newcastle fans angered that the colour wasn’t red. This led to an exciting opportunity for Newcastle to take an early lead and meet their expectation as league favourites. Although, in true Newcastle style Perez’s attempt was fired straight into an unexpecting Fulham wall.
Throughout the game Newcastle did well to hold onto far more possession than there Championship rivals, but could not find a clear-cut chance to take the lead.
Fans can feel punished as in total there were two very clear penalty shouts which should have, without hesitation, been awarded. The clearest controversy came just after the half-hour mark, when a superb Matt Richie cross was blocked by the raised hand of Fulham’s Ryan Tunnicliffe, but Hooper the referee waved on.
In the 44th minute of the game Newcastle found themselves trailing 1-0, Grant Hanley put the ball out for a needless corner-kick and Fulham capitalised. Cottagers captain Tom Cairney stepped up to the ball on the left-hand side and floated a towering ball into the middle of the box to meet the head of Matt Smith.
To watch the marking and tactics of the United players during that corner was painful. Matt Smith was the biggest player on the field, therefore the biggest threat to Newcastle when set-pieces are being taken, and Toon skipper Jamaal Lascelles didn’t even contest for the ball. He was slow to react when Smith made he leap and also was never in a threatening enough position to get anywhere near him.
As the game progressed and fans still believed that we could get back into the game, doubt crept into our minds. Doubt that said we have lost our past five fixtures against Fulham and also that we haven’t beaten the side since 2007.
Benitez needed a revival and looked to inject some pace with the additions of Aarons, Armstrong and Shelvey but no-one was able create any chances or even a realistic glimpse at a much needed goal. It was over, finishing 1-0, the dream start that we hoped for ended in defeat.
Not all hopes were dashed in the match, debutantes Matt Ritchie and Isaac Hayden could not be faulted and both put in some very good, hard-working, performances. We seem to have quite the player in young Hayden, who bossed the midfield and rarely let any Fulham threat to pass. It was disappointing to see him subbed off during the second-half but it was notable that he was getting frustrated.
Matt Ritchie on the other-hand was marvelous leading Newcastle’s attack, had three clear-cut chances that should of been buried in the back of the net, but his performance was over shadowed by the lack of creativity of his fellow forwards; Gayle and Perez.
This defeat does not damn Newcastle’s Championship title hopes, but it does put a damper on the proceedings. With 45 fixtures remaining, which will all come thick and fast, questions will need to be answered on the tactics used (Anita is never a winger and Colback should not be featuring over Shelvey). More signings are evidently needed to inject some much needed pace in the final third, and some serious work needs to be done on our finishing capabilities.
It was a reality check – we aren’t going to walk this league, it is tough and we need every player to step up and fight in every match. Fulham were simply more ready and up for a fight last night.
Harvey Jamison (@HarveyJamison)