Nobody has suffered more than Bobby Robson as a manager at Fulham. It was at Craven Cottage that the Peter Pan of football management launched his long career (after a spell nominally in charge of Vancouver Royals, whom he left without overseeing a game because the club's money ran out). Eleven months into the Fulham job, he was on his way home from the ground one night when he saw an Evening Standard billboard bearing the news: "Robson Sacked". It was the first he knew about it.
At least Jean Tigana can see the end coming – whenever that might be. Robson may well have hastened the process, his Newcastle side having inflicted a defeat that added to Tigana's troubles, with the Steve Marlet transfer affair gathering momentum and, by all accounts, Mohamed Al Fayed fast losing patience with his French manager.
Much of the damage at St James' Park yesterday was self-inflicted, though, Edwin van der Sar gifting the opening goal to Nolberto Solano and Pierre Wome getting himself sent off for a dreadful challenge on Andy Griffin. Tigana's men couldn't even take advantage of a rare penalty miss by Alan Shearer. They couldn't even force a save from Shay Given.
Not that their one-time manager had reason to care. Robson's Newcastle are up to fourth place in the Premiership now. "We're not quite up there with the other three," Robson said. "But you never know, if we keep giving performances like that. And those three clubs have got to come here yet. It won't be easy for them."
It certainly won't. Newcastle have won eight of their nine matches in the Premiership at St James' this season. Tigana's hopes of raiding the Toon fortress were not exactly enhanced by an abundance of attacking weaponry. With Louis Saha, Luis Boa Morte, Facundo Sava and Barry Hayles all on the injured list, Steed Malbranque was pressed into emergency front-line service alongside the much-maligned Marlet. Fulham's last line of defence, however, was equally woeful yesterday.
As a graduate of the Ajax academy, Van der Sar could at least be expected to kick a ball with accuracy, but the veteran goalkeeper was well off the mark with the clearance he attempted from the left edge of his area in the eighth minute. He was under some pressure from Craig Bellamy, but still had a clear swing at the ball only to hoof it directly to Solano, who controlled it with his chest before lofting a scoring shot over the stranded Dutchman. Tigana looked in danger of swallowing his toothpick, and his mood on the visitors' bench was hardly improved as Newcastle proceeded to shift into all-out attacking mode.
For the next 20 minutes the black-and-white tide seemed unrelenting. Sean Davis did steer a 20-yard shot a foot or two wide, but at the other end the chances were coming thick and fast. Shearer directed a header into the side- netting, and Van der Sar saved from Bellamy and Shearer, twice, before flirting with disaster for a second time. Rushing to gather a ball on the left edge of his area, the Dutchman was almost beaten by Rufus Brevett's misguided attempt to head the ball back to him, parrying it to Solano, whose goal-bound chip was only hooked clear by the back-tracking Andy Melville.
Fulham rode out the storm to dictate the play for the quarter of an hour before the interval. They created just the one opening, though, Sylvain Legwinski ("Monica" to his team-mates) stabbing a shot over the bar from 15 yards. Their fate looked to be sealed when Alan Wiley pointed to the spot two minutes into the second half, Kieron Dyer having been held back by Davis as he raced into the Fulham area – only for Shearer to send his penalty high, wide and not very handsome. "We're getting some builders in to repair the stand," was Robson's wry comment afterwards.
Shearer had a penalty saved by Van der Saar at Craven Cottage last season and he has never scored against Fulham. He was denied another chance shortly after his miss yesterday when Van der Sar raced out of his area to challenge the Newcastle captain. The Fulham 'keeper was booked for his successful effort and suffered a foot injury that led him to make way for Maik Taylor in the 61st minute.
He was not the only Fulham player to depart, Wome having been shown a red card for an attempt to cut off Griffin at the knees. It could have finished four- or five-nil after that, but Newcastle scored just the once more, Bellamy burying a left-foot drive in the 70th minute.
"We just have to keep working and keep our spirits up," Tigana said. The next stop for him and his stuttering team is West Ham on Boxing Day. "It's a very, very important game for the club," he said. "We've got to make sure we stay in this league. That's our priority."