Fulham 1 Newcastle Utd 0: Malbranque compounds Souness woes

Newcastle suffer after yet another poor away day
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The Independent Football

After an hour of tedium, substitute Steed Malbranque's winner had the effect of dropping a careless match into an open box of fireworks. It enlivened the closing minutes, when Fulham could have won more handsomely or conceded an equaliser.

But at least the London club provided the spirited response that manager Chris Coleman had demanded following the ignominy of their FA Cup exit, while the out-of-Tooners again demonstrated an alarming propensity for homesickness.

Newcastleseriously examined Fulham's new goalkeeper Antti Niemi only in the final minutes and the Finn stood up splendidly to the assault. Graeme Souness claimed that his team were "hard done by". If he really believes that, he is taking a highly myopic view of proceedings.

Yet overall it was a philosophical Scot who shrugged and conceded: "That's life. I chose to have this job. I like to think of myself as someone who keeps going. That's what I'll continue to do. It doesn't stop me losing sleep. It doesn't stop me enjoying my life. I feel I'm getting as much as I can from the group of players that I've got available."

Of course, the injury crisis continues to grip St James's Park and eight players were missing. Some he would probably have happily dispensed with. The absence of others, including the influential Scott Parker, and a fellow named Michael Owen, was rather more significant.

But that is only mitigation, not an explanation, for how insipid United were as an attacking force in the first half. Niemi, who made the £1 million move from Southampton last week, may as well have remained on the South Coast in that first period. Alan Shearer, bidding to overtake "Wor" Jackie's all-time Newcastle record, laboured valiantly but never got a sniff at goal.

What he did receive was the wrath of the home faithful when, not for the first time in his career, he felled an opponent, Ian Pearce, with an elbow. Also not for the first time, an official, in this case Alan Wiley, opted merely to give the former England striker a reprimand.

Wiley also curiously failed to dispense what Coleman believed was appropriate justice after the worst incident, when Celestine Babayaro caught Tomasz Radzinski. "Terrible, terrible, terrible. It was bad, nasty," declared the Fulham manager. "He's got four stud marks right down the front of his shin." Coleman added: "If you breathe on someone these days you get a booking. So, if you put in a leg-breaking challenge, you should be sent off."

Coleman has talked of late about taking Fulham into the top 10 - presumably he means the Premiership - before managing abroad and then Wales. Never mind Land of his Fathers; Fulham followers would appreciate it if he could ensure their club retains a top-flight interest within these Thames-side acres, land of many of their fathers.

Fulham have excelled at home - if we ignore last week's FA Cup blip against Leyton Orient - and yesterday they continued that trend. They went closest when the in-form Brian McBride dispatched a lethal effort from the edge of box and forced Shay Given to paw the ball over the bar with the agility of a kitten.

However, Newcastle emerged considerably more focused in the second half. Although Malbranque - not fully fit, according to his manager - might have scored soon after coming off the bench, only to be denied by Given, it was Newcastle who belatedly made their presence felt and Jean Alain Boumsong's towering header from Nolberto Solano's corner had to be headed off the line by Niclas Jensen. Almost immediately, Fulham broke through McBride, who found another substitute, Collins John, on the left. The Dutch striker's attempt from an angle was saved by Given, only for Malbranque to drive home the rebound.

Heidar Helguson hit the bar before, finally, Niemi repaid some of his fee, making a fine double save from Peter Ramage and then Lee Bowyer, although there were suggestions that Pearce, on the line, assisted that denial with his hand.

But an equaliser would have been a lot more than Newcastle merited on another thoroughly depressing away day for them.