With the intense glare of the media spotlight relentlessly beaming down upon Sunderland throughout the past week, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew may well be thankful to Paolo Di Canio and the Black Cats for shifting the local focus away from his side’s Premier League struggles.
2012/13 has been a long and arduous campaign for Newcastle, whose impressive progression to the last eight of the Europa League has been largely overshadowed by poor domestic form that sees them languish in 15th place and just three points above the relegation zone heading into Sunday’s clash at St James’s Park. A persistent injury crisis has undermined the hosts’ season thus far, and Pardew has been quick to blame those fitness issues on their continued involvement in Europe’s second most prestigious club competition. Pardew’s recent frustrations came to the fore after Newcastle’s last Premier League fixture, a dismal 4-0 defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium last Saturday. Thursday’s latest European clash away to Benfica will have done little to improve his mood, after inexplicable errors from Davide Santon and Steven Taylor gifted the hosts a 3-1 win after Papiss Cisse had given them an unlikely early lead.
Barring a collapse of almost catastrophic proportions, Fulham should be assured of Premier League football next season. Monday’s 3-2 victory over relegation-threatened QPR left Martin Jol’s side in 10th position in the Premier League, a comfortable nine points clear of any immediate danger. A spate of masterful showings from Bulgarian talisman Dimitar Berbatov have been a particular highlight in what has been an otherwise uneventful campaign at Craven Cottage. The former Tottenham and Manchester United striker, who joined Fulham for an undisclosed fee in August 2012, has 13 goals in all competitions this season, including a brace against QPR.
KICK-OFF: Sunday, 3pm
PAST THREE MEETINGS…
Fulham 2 (Sidwell, Rodallega) Newcastle 1 (Ben Arfa), Premier League, December 2012
Fulham 5 (Murphy, Dempsey, Zamora) Newcastle 2 (Guthrie, Ben Arfa), Premier League, January 2012
Newcastle 2 (Best) Fulham 1 (Dempsey), Premier League, August 2011
Newcastle and Fulham have previously met 59 times in League action. Fulham have won 26, Newcastle 20 and there have been 13 draws.
Newcastle’s home form has been strong this season. Only eight of their 33 points have been claimed away from St James’s Park in 2012/13.
Despite traditionally being associated with a rather poor away record in the Premier League, Fulham are unbeaten in their last five games away from Craven Cottage.
Despite their four consecutive clean sheets in the Europa League prior to Thursday’s defeat to Benfica, Newcastle are without one in the Premier League since January.
Newcastle to win: 2.1
Fulham to win: 3.5
A superb performance from American international midfielder Clint Dempsey inspired Jol’s men to a resounding 5-2 triumph in January 2012. The Texan was in unstoppable form at Craven Cottage, constantly terrorising Newcastle’s back line and netting a second-half hat-trick. Danny Murphy and Bobby Zamora also scored for Fulham.
TV: Highlights on Match of the Day, BBC1 at 10.25pm.