Fulham 2 Newcastle 1
Fulham ended their long wait for a win tonight as Hugo Rodallega’s header proved enough to dispatch of Newcastle in an entertaining encounter at Craven Cottage.
The Colombian’s goal was the difference in a tight affair by the Thames in which the west Londoners ensured their winless streak would not stretch to an eighth match.
Fulham came into the game without a victory since mid-October but got off to an ideal start when Steve Sidwell’s 19th-minute strike deflected off Mike Williamson and looped in.
It was the Cottagers’ first goal in 317 minutes and they would have had several more was it not for some poor finishing and the fine form of goalkeeper Tim Krul.
Newcastle, though, were proving an increasing threat and Sascha Riether twice cleared off the line, before the returning Hatem Ben Arfa drew the visitors level in the 54th minute with a deflected effort.
However, Fulham were not to be denied and, nine minutes after the Magpies had drawn parity, Rodallega headed home a free-kick by former United midfielder Damien Duff to secure the hosts all three points.
The Whites made five changes for tonight’s game and started brightly, with off-balance winger Alex Kacaniklic putting wide after just 55 seconds.
It was the first of a number of early Fulham half chances, although the Magpies soon settled.
After a few warning shots, Papiss Cisse collected a poor Mark Schwarzer clearance and came close to finding Demba Ba.
The chance seemed to jolt Fulham into life and Rodallega came close with an acrobatic strike after collecting a ball from Duff.
The pair linked up again in the 19th minute as Fulham ended their goal drought as the latter pulled back for Sidwell, whose strike took a deflection off Williamson and looped over Krul.
After waiting more than five hours for a goal, Fulham fans almost got to witness two in as many minutes.
Dimitar Berbatov cut out a weak Cheick Tiote pass and burst past Fabricio Coloccini at the halfway line, only for Krul to thwart the Fulham frontman when through on goal.
The former Manchester United striker was again denied by Krul in the 29th minute.
After only managing to palm a fierce Riether cross into the path of Berbatov, the Netherlands international did well to recover and deny the Bulgarian before Williamson cleared.
It begun a spell of Newcastle pressure that saw them come close to levelling in the 31st minute, with Riether having to clear a powerful Coloccini header from the edge of the box off the line.
Newcastle were again cursing the German right-back on the stroke of half-time when he again denied them on the line, with Ba the man frustrated this time.
The visitors continued in the ascendancy when the second half resumed, with Anita – managed by Fulham’s Martin Jol during the pair’s time at Ajax – flashed a 47th-minute strike just over the bar.
Berbatov fired into the side-netting when Fulham returned to the attack, before Schwarzer looked on as Ben Arfa struck a 54th-minute equaliser.
The Frenchman marked his return to the starting line-up after four games out with a goal from 22 yards that curled in off the crossbar.
The strike took a slight deflection off John Arne Riise but Schwarzer arguably should have done better, raising further questions about the Australian after a few mistakes of late.
Opposite number Krul was having no such problems and did well to deny Sidwell as he searched for a second.
The Netherlands international was soon beaten, though, as Duff floated in a cross from the right and Rodallega nodded home unmarked from six yards.
Berbatov saw penalty appeals waved away soon after the 63rd-minute header, before Fulham sat back and waited for chances on the counter-attack.
Coloccini flicked clear as Berbatov threatened, before the Newcastle captain saw an exquisite curled strike hit the crossbar at the other end.
Substitute Shola Ameobi, Ba and Jonas Gutierrez were all denied by Schwarzer as United pushed for a leveller, before Aaron Hughes blocked a late Ba strike.
Berbatov was denied a deserved goal as the game came to a close and substitute Mladen Petric fired close from distance.