Anniversary to forget for Benitez as Newcastle outclassed by Fulham
Rafael Benitez suffered an anniversary to forget as Newcastle crashed to a 3-1 defeat to Fulham.
Twelve months to the day since he agreed to take over at St James' Park, Benitez watched his side suffer their joint-heaviest league defeat of the season as Tom Cairney's early opener was followed by two second-half goals from Ryan Sessegnon.
Newcastle, who claimed a second-half consolation through Daryl Murphy, remain on top of the Sky Bet Championship, but the result means they are only ahead of Brighton on goal difference and are now just six points clear of third-placed Huddersfield.
Fulham are two points adrift of the play-off places, but boast a game in hand on all bar one of the sides in the top six and appear to be peaking at just the right time.
Newcastle's home form is a growing source of concern for Benitez, with the Magpies now having suffered five league defeats at St James'.
Their previous home game saw them concede two first-half goals to Bristol City, and they were on the back foot from an early stage of proceedings once again as Cairney broke the deadlock in the 15th minute.
Newcastle looked at signing Cairney during the January transfer window, only for Fulham to stand firm, and his goalscoring abilities were clear to see as he received the ball from full-back Scott Malone before curling a superb 22-yard strike past Karl Darlow.
Fulham went into the game having lost just one of their previous eight league games, and Slavisa Jokanovic's side were unfortunate not to be more than a goal to the good at the interval.
Darlow produced a smart stop to deny Sone Aluko after the striker wriggled into space in the area, and Neeskens Kebano came close with a shot that deflected off Paul Dummett and looped narrowly wide of the post.
Newcastle's first-half play was littered with errors, and their only real chance came to nothing shortly before the half-hour mark as Fulham goalkeeper David Button tipped Ciaran Clark's close-range header over the crossbar after the defender rose to meet Vurnon Anita's right-wing cross.
The hosts were no better in the second period, and Fulham swiftly added another two goals to their tally to put the game beyond doubt.
Sessegnon claimed them both, with his pace down the left-hand side causing a succession of problems to the Magpies defence.
His first goal six minutes after half-time saw him slot a low shot into the corner after Clark's poor clearance enabled Aluko to back-heel the ball into his path.
And his second came courtesy of an even better finish as he rifled into the bottom corner in the 59th minute after Aluko again teed him up to complete a slick Fulham counter-attack.
Newcastle reduced the arrears with 14 minutes remaining as substitute Murphy turned on the corner of the box before angling a low strike into the corner, and Fulham wasted a great chance for a fourth goal in stoppage time as Tim Ream fired a penalty wide of the post after Dummett was penalised for a push on Gohi Cyriac.