This was Chris Coleman's 50th Premiership win as Fulham manager. Despite the inevitable anxieties, he's reached his half-century without grey hair - and without perm-enhancing drugs. "It's not Grecian 2000 or anything," Coleman stated confidently. "I promise you that."
In a dismal first half, it was this match that needed restorative lotions. An unseasonable golden sun beamed in. The warmth suggested either an early spring or a late autumn. The game suggested the latter - the disjointed, torpid play taking us back to a world slowing down for winter.
Newcastle had the better chances in the first period, but neither team convinced. We had been promised the world - or at least the polyglot, pan-global exotica the Premiership now offers as standard. The Fulham team sheet alone featured 10 nationalities, while Newcastle had the American Oguchi "Gooch" Onyewu making his debut at centre-back. On the bench, Fulham had their own US new boy, the midfielder, Clint "Deuce" Dempsey. As you will know, Dempsey was a star of the "2004 MLS SuperDraft", while his goal-scoring celebrations include imitation of both Dorothy from The Wizard Of Oz and the unmistakable actions of the bass fisherman.
This is what it said on paper. On the pitch, we had Titus Bramble hoofing the ball into the distance.
Fulham entered the game on the back of six Premiership draws and a defeat at Sheffield United. Newcastle had not lost in the League this year. But Newcastle have been kind to Fulham in recent history. It was the Magpies who Coleman defeated in his first game as Fulham manager.
Fulham held the balance, five to four, for Premiership wins. Nicky Butt extended this pattern of Geordie generosity in the 49th minute. Receiving a throw-in, he neatly chipped the ball into the path of Fulham's Heidar Helguson. The Icelander fired home and Fulham started playing like it was spring after all. Newcastle remained keener on autumnal moods, displaying the vigour of a hedgehog looking for a nice bed of leaves.
Wayne Routledge, Simon Davies and the substitute Papa Bouba Diop began to slice Newcastle apart. Dyer, Milner and Duff were only fitfully dangerous for the visitors. Diop's skill and persistence bore fruit in the 73rd minute. Barging his way past Stephen Carr, he crossed for Brian McBride to slot home. Newcastle's ongoing stupor made depressing viewing for the massed Toon Army. Then, from nowhere, Nolberto Solano sent a long ball over to Martins. The forward took it down crisply and shot home from just inside the area. It was too little, too late for the visitors.
Glenn Roeder acknowledged a disappointing, "flat" Newcastle performance, but the manager praised Onyewu's debut. Dyer, he said, was "100 per cent" despite his substitution.
"I feel a lot older," said Coleman reflecting on his time as Fulham manager. "We've come a long way as a club. If we stay up again this year, it'll be our sixth season. We're looking more and more like a Premiership club, rather than a club who are talked about in terms of relegation."
Goals: Helguson (49) 1-0; McBride (73); Martins (90) 2-1.
Fulham (4-4-2) Lastuvka; Rosenior, Christanval, Bocanegra, Queudrue; Routledge (Dempsey, 78), Brown, Volz (Diop, 67), Davies; Helguson, McBride (Montella, 80). Subsitutes not used: Knight, Radzinski.
Newcastle(4-4-1-1): Harper; Carr, Bramble, Onyewu, Taylor; Milner, Parker, Butt, Duff (Sibierski, 68); Dyer (Solano, 85); Martins. Subsitutes not used: Srnicek, Huntington, O'Brien.
Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).
Booked: Fulham Bocanegra; Newcastle Butt, Bramble, Milner.
Man of the match: Helguson.
Attendance: 24,340.Reuse content