How sweet that must have felt for Damien Duff. For an hour his every touch was jeered by his old audience; then his winning goal shut them up. As we so often find ourselves saying, football, eh?
The highlight of the first half was my peanut butter sandwich. So substantial was it that it took 25 minutes to work through, by which time nothing at all had happened on the pitch. Newcastle squeezed the game and slammed into our players, closing them down super-efficiently and creating a mess of a match. It felt like watching a Sam Allardyce side on a particularly determined day.
All of which left much for Fulham to do. Murphy and Sidwell were keeping their heads above water, but only just. AJ ran hard again, Dembele seemed to draw an awful lot of contact and everything seemed to be going through Duff rather than Dempsey, who barely had a touch. Duff was going well, but so insistent were Newcastle’s defenders that chances simply didn’t materialise.
We saw a much better tempo in the second half and soon found ourselves in dangerous areas. Dempsey started to lean on the last man looking for Murphy’s balls over the top, and Sidwell and Murphy started to command the middle of the park. Dembele, in a very different way to Sunday, really showed his worth; he has subtle leadership skills, and his presence is like having the coolest kid from the year above at school join in with your kick around. Good things were starting to happen, notably when Dempsey went charging through on the inside left channel and fired off a shot which somehow ended up with Duff close in. Regrettably the latter could only stab the rebound wide. Gasp.
Then we did score. Newcastle had been playing chicken with Murphy for a while, a daring high line that needed their midfield to keep up their frenetic work in denying our midfield time. Perhaps they got tired, but the through balls started to come, and here was Duff clean through and there we were, 1 up. No less than we deserved either.
Dempsey brought a couple more good saves out of Harper, who was having an important match for his team. Newcastle didn’t really have a counter-plan, and it really became a case of whether we’d get another. Gael Kakuta was brought on to try, and looked lively enough, but that ended up being that.
Much to enjoy in the end, a slow burner that initially didn’t seem to have lit at all, but which grew into a fair old tussle. The referee didn’t help, petty whistling giving the match an uneccessarily stop-start feel, but another important three points to keep this momentum going. We feel like a good side again.