Newcastle Utd 1 – 1 Fulham
N’Zogbia 78; McBride 13
Sent Off: Parker (83)
This was Fulham’s 5th match of the season. Four points had been taken from Birmingham and Everton at the Cottage but we’d lost at Blackburn and Arsenal on the road. That was a sign of things to come on our travels but we went to St James Park buoyed by the fact we’d won 4-1 there on our previous trip. Collins John, Luis Boa Morte and a Steed Malbranque brace demonstrated clinical finishing on the counter-attack but the architect of that win had been a stellar goalkeeping performance from Mark ‘Big Norm’ Crossley.
I was very much hoping to see a repeat performance as I was there in person with my son, having set off from my South Coast home at about 4 am that morning. My boy had fallen for Newcastle since getting an Alan Shearer figurine with his Sugar Puffs when he was 5 and despite me getting him a season ticket with me at the Cottage a couple of years later he still liked the Toon. The lure of Fayed’s subsidised coach travel proved irresistible in affording me the opportunity to take my boy to St James Park. It was doubly fortunate that the game was to coincide with Michael Owen’s debut which got the nation’s media excited more than they normally would for two pretty average sides.
Newcastle had been struggling to set the world alight since sacking the legendary Bobby Robson and we certainly had no love for their current incumbent, Graeme Souness after his ill-judged comments about Jean Tigana’s side the year we romped to promotion. The Scot was already under serious pressure with just one point on the board so far and he would have been hoping that Owen would ignite their season and distract the Geordie faithful from their discontent with his reign.
The Fulham Team
Starting XI – Warner; Volz, Knight, Bocanegra, Niclas Jensen; Radzinski, Claus Jensen, Diop, Malbranque; Boa Morte, McBride.
Subs – John for Radzinski, Helguson for McBride.
Unused – Batista, Elrich, Christanval.
Tony Warner was between the sticks instead of the previous year’s hero Mark Crossley but Chris Coleman’s outfit still had a familiar feel to it with Malbranque and Boa Morte sprinkling the stardust on a fairly workmanlike side.
The Newcastle Team
Starting XI – Given; Taylor, Boumsong, Bramble, Babayaro; Carr, Faye, Parker, Luque; Shearer, Owen.
Subs – Bowyer for Taylor, Clark for Faye, Nzogbia for Luque.
Unused – Elliott, Harper.
The Match Report
Michael Owen’s mind must be reeling following this crash course in Tyneside angst. With a foolish goal conceded and Scott Parker sent off in disputed circumstances after Newcastle United had just equalised, this debut will have taught him how hard it will be to unpick the knot of frustration at his club.
A blank start for the £16.5m signing can be pardoned when the midfield is so disrupted by injuries, but the chairman Freddy Shepherd will train his sights on the manager Graeme Souness if the target of a top-six finish in the Premiership continues to look out of range.
Groggy from the disruption to his career and dazed by England’s defeat to Northern Ireland, Owen will still have been alert enough to note how completely outplayed Newcastle had been. Fulham were the kind of cogent team that Souness is yet to fashion and the St James’ Park fatalism has contaminated him. “We were set up to fall flat on our faces,” he said of the Owen hullabaloo. The Scot ignored the theory that his players should have been inspired by the excitement.
It was the visitors who were stimulated. “I told them to be stubborn for 20 minutes,” said the Fulham manager Chris Coleman. His team bridled at the assumption that they were the stage-hands for an Owen extravaganza. Fulham often flitted into positions behind a disastrous Newcastle defence and should have deservedly matched the lucky 4-1 score run up on the ground last season.
With a 1-0 lead already established Fulham saw Shay Given save from Tomasz Radzinski and Brian McBride early in the second half. The substitute Charles N’Zogbia, assisted by the post, also cleared a Pape Bouba Diop header in between those incidents. Souness believes that his many newcomers are too good to need much time to gel but questions remain about the preparation of the team. Jermaine Jenas’s stinging claim that he has moved to Spurs to learn from Martin Jol did not sound entirely like the excuse of a footballer in pursuit of the next pay-day.
Since Owen could not demonstrate his finishing he had to show his diplomacy. “When the lads get that injection of confidence you’ll see a lot better performances,” he said doggedly of a team without a win in the Premiership. The disorientated attacker needs some help himself. “I could do with going home, getting a change of clothes and finding somewhere to stay [in the north-east],” he said.
Fulham knew exactly where they were going, straight at a Newcastle defence in which Jean-Alain Boumsong floundered most. The opener, in the 13th minute, began with a thoughtless back-pass by Steven Taylor. Radzinski intercepted and laid the ball back to Luis Boa Morte, whose low cross was turned in by McBride after Boumsong had slipped.
With half an hour gone, an Albert Luque corner flew over the Fulham goalkeeper Tony Warner but then bounced through the legs of an unmarked Owen. “I tried to angle my shins down to control it,” he sighed. “If it had squirmed in front of me rather than behind I would have had a relatively easy chance.”
The opportunities will present themselves in better order eventually and he will take them. To get the maximum benefit, however, Newcastle will need to reveal a deeper creativity. Luque, bought for £9m from Deportivo la Corua, has yet to adjust to the pell-mell Premiership and, having pulled a hamstring 10 minutes before the interval, will probably be out for six weeks.
Newcastle, who had seen Stephen Carr hit the bar following one free-kick, scored with another after Owen had been fouled by Boa Morte in the 78th minute. From an angle on the right the French 19-year-old N’Zogbia bent a perfect delivery across Warner and into the far corner, so opening his Premiership account at Newcastle.
Fulham could have rallied to win. Parker was dismissed for a second yellow card when he tugged Claus Jensen after 83 minutes and the Dane smacked the resulting free-kick off the bar. Coleman was contented all the same.
While Shepherd makes the slightly menacing observation that Souness has spent £50m in 2005, the Fulham manager has to fret over any transfer. “I can’t spend £2m on a mistake because I can’t ask for another £2m to rectify it,” Coleman said, memories of Newcastle’s frequent wastefulness perhaps stirring in his mind.
The club has not at least forced him to sell. Souness wanted Boa Morte but apparently met the reputed price of £6m too late. “We would not have had time to replace him,” Coleman said. “Luis understands that.” It seems uncanny that the Fulham captain, who has signed a new, five-year contract, is so tranquil after being denied a lucrative move.
When Coleman reflected on Louis Saha’s unsuccessful switch to Manchester United by remarking “The grass isn’t always greener”, he was also wilfully ignoring the riches that the Frenchman gained. On Saturday, however, it was futile to argue with economical Fulham.
Man of the match: Brian McBride (Fulham)
Newcastle manager Graeme Souness: “We spoke what it would be like with Michael making his debut. Some of us got a bit caught up in the media hype and we didn’t start right and gifted them an early goal. Ideally, I would have preferred Michael’s debut to have been away from home, so I’m pleased this is out of the way. We can now work on his fitness.”
Fulham boss Chris Coleman: “It looked like only one team was going to win until we were caught out by Charles N’Zogbia’s wonder strike – we just had no luck. We took the game to Newcastle from the start and I thought we were excellent. We gained more than a point because this it was a fantastic performance – we looked more dangerous.”
As alluded to earlier Fulham really struggled away from home in this campaign. In fact, the only victory came in our penultimate fixture at Manchester City. Fortunately, we turned the Cottage into a fortress that season; the highlight of our 13 victories being ( to date) our only Premier League win against that lot down the Road. It led to a comfortable 12th place finish some 14 points clear of the drop.
Newcastle rallied later in the season after the dismissal of the unloved Souness. Glenn Roeder stepped in and guided them to a healthy 7th place ten points ahead of us although a Steed Malbranque goal had ensured we took the points in the reverse fixture.
Some 13 years on and although my son has travelled many miles watching Fulham he still retains his affection for the Magpies. He’s a strange lad… personally, I blame the parent??