Fulham beat a 10-man Arsenal but contrived to lose to a similarly depleted Blackburn. So we shall never know how they would have fared if Lee Mason had numerically challenged Newcastle, as unquestionably the referee should have done, when Davide Santon committed the foul that led to an equaliser from the penalty spot.
Not that Fulham needed any help. Martin Jol's team proceeded to score four goals in less than a quarter of an hour, with the substitute Andy Johnson as influential as any striker could be without finding the net. Clint Dempsey assumed the bulk of responsibility for that, the American's late completion of a hat-trick taking his total for the season to 15. All hope for Newcastle had gone by the time Hatem Ben Arfa drove in their second.
It had been quite a transformation – bizarrely described by Jol, who said "the first half was a sort of Brixton, the second half like a holiday in Jamaica" – as initially, Alan Pardew's team ruled. They led at half-time through a fine goal from Danny Guthrie that, strange as it may sound, may have contributed to the home triumph.
It did in the sense that Bryan Ruiz, who gave the ball away before Guthrie struck, was replaced at the interval by Chris Baird in the shuffle that liberated Fulham's attack. Johnson was already on, for the injured midfielder Steve Sidwell, but Jol did his best work at the break and soon his side were rampant, Johnson slicing through with Dempsey and Bobby Zamora in repetitively lethal manoeuvres.
"I had already decided to play in a more direct style," Jol said. "With Andy Johnson on, we tried to get the ball in behind Newcastle and luckily it paid off. Up to then we hadn't exploited the space Newcastle leave behind them. But I compliment my players because not many teams will score five against Newcastle."
There had been further calls for a red card when Johnson tumbled over the harassed Tim Krul in earning Fulham's second penalty, but on this occasion Mason applied the criterion that the denied player must have remained in control of the ball at the point of impact. Zamora scored from the spot, as Danny Murphy had before.
Earlier, Newcastle were dominating as Champions' League aspirants might have been expected to. The absent Demba Ba would surely have taken advantage of porous defending – not that Fabrizio Coloccini looked short of composure in half-volleying a cross from Mike Williamson. David Stockdale saved. But for Newcastle's central defenders to be so active in attack told its own story. Sidwell, having taken a couple of knocks, gave away to Johnson and Fulham rearranged themselves. Yet the home fans were still restless and yelled in frustration when Ruiz, now in central midfield, dwelt on the ball.
Their dismay grew as Ben Arfa found Guthrie, who sent a left-footer dipping and raging past the helpless Stockdale from 22 yards. It was a marvellous first league goal of the season for the Guthrie, who does not get many. He needs one more to reach double figures before his 25th birthday in April.
The former Liverpool academy scholar has been blossoming under Pardew this season to the extent, he said recently, that he has started looking at England squads and wondering why he is not in them. But the way his afternoon deteriorated was symbolic of Newcastle woes. He was first shown a yellow card, for a foul on Dempsey, and then substituted in favour of James Perch 15 minutes from the end with the score 4-1.
For the second half, Jol installed the defensive qualities of Baird alongside Murphy, who began and finished the sequence that brought Fulham level. His drifting ball was edged by Damien Duff ahead of Santon, who brought him down. The referee had a choice of red or second yellow – Santon had pulled down Johnson seconds from half-time – and chose neither. Amazing.
Murphy put the penalty away. Then Johnson broke with Zamora, who beautifully tricked Coloccini and shot. Krul parried but only to Dempsey, from whose thigh the ball bounced into the net. Dempsey was soon surging through to beat Krul again, the outcome of a lovely combination between Johnson and Zamora, and once more Johnson played a part when he stayed on his feet despite a nudge from Coloccini, but had no option but to fall over Krul. Now Zamora converted the penalty.
After Ben Arfa's low drive past Stockdale, Dempsey sliced through again to score a goal almost identical to his first and departed a minute early to a standing ovation. No wonder Pardew cut a less jubilant figure, pointing out: "The Premier League is a place where you can't switch off." Newcastle did when the equaliser went in. "The reaction set us back. The unit at the back did not perform well enough and I can't think of any game when we've been as inefficient as we were today." No one had the heart to mention that they had also been lucky to keep 11 on the field.
Fulham (4-2-3-1): Stockdale; Kelly, Senderos, Hangeland, J A Riise; Sidwell (Johnson, 37), Murphy; Ruiz (Baird, h-t), Dempsey (Frei, 90), Duff; Zamora.
Newcastle United (4-2-3-1): Krul; Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini, Santon; Guthrie (Perch, 75), Cabaye (Gosling, 83); Ben Arfa, Gutierrez, Best (R Taylor, 85); Shola Ameobi.
Referee: Lee Mason
Man of the match: Dempsey (Fulham)
Match rating: 8/10Reuse content