Jean Tigana has had his hands on a few cups in his time. There was the European Championship as an outstanding midfielder with France in 1984, the French championship as a coach with Monaco in 1997 and the English First Division with Fulham two seasons ago.
As he faced the press at St James' Park on Saturday, though, the Fulham manager politely declined the offer of the cup of tea set down on the table before him. "Would you like coffee instead?" Cath Cassidy, the press room tea lady, enquired. "No, nothing," he replied, "or I don't sleep."
There have been plenty of restless nights lately for Tigana, what with the Steve Marlet transfer affair rumbling on towards courtroon proceedings and Mohamed Al Fayed, by all accounts, fast losing faith and patience with his manager.
There have been the injuries, too – enough to fill an entire series of Casualty – though on Saturday the wounds Fulham and their manager suffered were greatly self-inflicted.
The chief-culprit was Edwin van der Sar. The beanpole Dutch goalkeeper presented Newcastle with a goal after eight minutes, hoofing an attempted clearance straight to Nolberto Solano, who returned it with scoring interest. He got drawn into the potential cock-up department again 13 minutes later, playing patsy with Rufus Brevett on the left edge of his area, leaving Andy Melville to clear a Solano chip from the goalmouth.
It did get better for Van der Sar in one respect. Last season he saved an Alan Shearer penalty at Craven Cottage and Bobby Robson attributed his captain's 48th-minute miss from the spot on Saturday – an effort which flew high into the Gallowgate End – to the presence of the former Ajax keeper. "I think that tweaked Alan's mind about last year, when he saw Van der Sar, all 6ft 6in, or whatever it is, of him," the Newcastle manager said.
Van der Sar subsequently tweaked a foot muscle when challenging Shearer outside his area and made way for Maik Taylor for the final 29 minutes. Tigana refused to apportion any blame to him, saying: "It is part of how it is in football. Edwin has saved us many points. I must remember that."
In any case, there was more than the one flaw in Fulham's performance. They failed to force a save from Shay Given – the £11.5m Marlet was again anonymous – and they played the final 26 minutes with 10 men after Pierre Womé was red-carded for a reckless challenge on Andy Griffin.
In the circumstances, it was a victory of sorts for them that Newcastle only scored twice, Craig Bellamy burying a left-foot drive with 20 minutes to go. Robson's men have now won eight of nine fixtures at St James' Park. Tigana's team don't have a home, let alone a fortress, and their tenancy in the Premiership is starting to look seriously under threat too.
Their next game is at West Ham on Boxing Day. It is indeed a troubling yuletide for Tigana, whether or not Marlet's ghost comes to haunt him.
Goals: Solano (8) 1-0; Bellamy (70) 2-0.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given 6; Hughes 6, S Caldwell 7, O'Brien 6, Griffin 6; Solano 8 (Ameobi, 84), Dyer 8 (Jenas, 81), Speed 7 (Acuña, 87), Robert 6; Bellamy 7, Shearer 6. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Dabizas.
Fulham (4-4-2): Van der Sar 4 (Taylor 5, 61); Djétou 5, Melville 6, Goma 6, Brevett 4; Goldbaek 4, Legwinski 6, Davis 6, Womé 4; Malbranque 6 (Willock, 76), Marlet 4. Substitutes not used: Collins, Knight, Stolcers.
Referee: A Wiley (Burntwood) 5.
Bookings: Fulham: Brevett, Van der Sar. Sent off: Fulham: Womé.
Man of the match: Solano.
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