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Ameobi injured as Newcastle beaten by Fulham
Published : 02 Feb 2011 22:53:49
FIRST Newcastle United decided to sell Andy Carroll for an incredible £35m, then they failed to replace him before the transfer window had shut. After the unwanted distraction of having to take part in the blame game following the controversial transfer to Liverpool of their highly-coveted striker, manager Alan Pardew had to look on as his only other preferred striker, Shola Ameobi, suffered a suspected fractured cheekbone in the opening exchanges at Fulham. And if, by any stretch of the imagination, Pardew felt as if things couldn't get any worse after an unprecedented few days even by St James' Park standards, former Newcastle United winger Damien Duff turned the screw a little tighter. A pretty tame evening's Premier League football had looked like ending with Newcastle battling to earn a point that would have extended an unbeaten run to five in the league. But with 23 minutes remaining, a clever through pass from Danny Murphy ended with Duff infamously the scorer of the Aston Villa goal as a Magpies player that sent Newcastle down in 2009 left to slot in the decisive winner. Newcastle would have been without Carroll last night anyway because he was carrying a long-standing thigh problem that forced him out of Liverpool's match with Stoke. With everything else going on, including a solitary 'Carroll Judas' banner in the away end, Pardew adopted what seemed the most sensible approach by deciding not to tinker with the team that had extended an unbeaten run in the league to four matches. But he was soon forced to. Just when it must have seemed things could not have got much worse following the departure of Carroll, up jumped Ameobi for a header and Steve Sidwell accidentally plundered his elbow in to the side of his face. After a few minutes of treatment, Ameobi disappeared down the tunnel and Nile Ranger had to be introduced with less than 12 minutes on the clock. Options, as if Geordies needed reminding, are pretty limited. The shortage of high quality forwards in the Newcastle ranks was evident in the sense that former Middlesbrough goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer was rarely seriously tested. When he was forced in to action he was equal to a low drive from distance from full-back Danny Simpson, while Sidwell's flicked header from Joey Barton's free-kick flew wide of the Aussie's left upright. When Fulham looked to break with pace it caused Newcastle problems. Murphy's clever and effective passing style was their greatest threat, which came close to playing in both Duff and Clint Dempsey during a largely even opening half. There was also a low strike from Sidwell that Harper had to be alert to thwart and that did at least spark life in to the occasion albeit from a home perspective. After threatening to create a decent opening, Fulham did so. But, when Murphy's back post free-kick dropped to Dempsey, the American's instinctive shot from inside six yards hit the side-netting. As the match wore on it became more and more apparent that Barton, so often the source of supply for Carroll and Ameobi, was increasingly frustrated by a breakdown in understanding with Best. Ranger's pace had initially looked like causing problems, but neither Best nor his younger side-kick was linking up with the midfield particularly well, with any move forward tending not to stick. Seconds after the restart Duff should have shot when he broke in behind a static Newcastle defence. Instead he dallied and Williamson charged over to make a timely block. And Duff also wasted another fantastic opportunity moments later. This time, after Dempsey's effort had been denied by Harper, the Irishman somehow prodded wide from literally yards of the back post. As the minutes ticked by gaps started to open up more frequently as Fulham stepped things up in the hope of finding a winner. And, shortly after Best had headed Danny Guthrie's cross wide at the back post, Harper had to be at his best to stop a Dempsey drive powering in to his top right corner. But when Murphy picked out Duff with an exceptional 70-yard pass, Fulham got the goal their second half display deserved. The Irishman, sold following relegation in 2009, darted behind Jose Enrique before slotting low beyond Harper. Newcastle pushed forward in search of the equaliser, with Schwarzer making a point blank save to deny Ranger a timely leveller, but Fulham should have been further ahead by the end. Gael Kakuta, on his debut after moving on loan from Chelsea, had already been denied a couple of occasions when Dempsey was denied by Harper's quick-thinking after finding himself in loads of space inside the box. Even then there was still time for Mousa Dembele to work himself a late chance that had to be well held by Harper, as Newcastle failed to come back. If this is what life after Carroll is going to be like this season, Newcastle could be in for a few months of struggle.