Sitting just six points above the relegation zone in 14th wasn’t the position Martin Jol envisaged the Cottagers being in when he took over in the summer. The Dutchman has presided over a stop start campaign at Craven Cottage and he will have been angry that his players failed to build on their impressive win against Arsenal a fortnight ago. Their inability to beat struggling Blackburn, who played over an hour with 10 men, was typical of their inconsistent form. Fulham have won just four of their last 14 games usually following up victories with a string of defeats, which has made it difficult for them to climb the table. Lapses in concentration, missed chances and lethargic performances are certainly starting to take their toll although the first half of the campaign was hectic. The game at Ewood Park was their 37th of the season which is just one shy of a full top-flight campaign. Despite exiting the Europa League they had to endure a hectic Christmas period straight after and have hardly had any time to put their feet up and charge the batteries. Coming up against energetic Newcastle is the last thing Jol will have wanted as he tries to steer the club away from danger.
The Magpies have roared back into life in the New Year beating Manchester United and QPR at St James’ Park to leapfrog Liverpool into sixth. A minor blip over Christmas saw the pundits predict Alan Pardew’s men to struggle in the second half of the campaign especially with leading scorer Demba Ba heading off to the African Cup of Nations. Leon Best was the man charged with leading the line against Rangers on Sunday and his expertly taken goal proved to be the difference between the two teams. The Republic of Ireland international has played second fiddle to Ba for much of the campaign but proved his worth to the club with his first goal in four months. Admittedly Best has been a consistent performer for Newcastle since coming into the side at the start of 2011 following the sale of Andy Carroll and his work rate, hold up play and aerial strength has made him a real asset in black and white. A similar thing could be said for Danny Guthrie who returned from injury at the weekend to deputise for Cheick Tiote but found himself filling in for Yohan Cabaye as well after the Frenchman was stretchered off. Both Best and Guthrie typify the hard working and tenacious Newcastle United that will go to the capital confident of making three wins on the trot in 2012.
Fulham 14th : 23 points
Last six: L W D D L W
Team news: Moussa Dembele and Dickson Etuhu are doubtful after picking up knocks whilst this game will come too soon for Mark Schwarzer
Key Player: Danny Murphy
Despite his advanced years Murphy still plays a vital playmaking role in the heart of Fulham’s midfield. His guile and quality on the ball will be useful in breaking down Newcastle’s resolute midfield and defence.
Newcastle United 6th: 36 points
Last six: W W L W L D
Team news: Yohan Cabaye could miss out after injuring his ankle on Sunday although Peter Lovenkrands could return.
Key Player: Leon Best
With his strike partner Demba Ba away at the African Cup of Nations the onus is on Best to score the goals in his absence. The former Coventry striker notched his fourth of the season on Sunday and will be keen to add more before Ba returns.
Fulham are in a rut failing to build on some impressive wins and will need to start being more consistent. They’ll face a tough test against Newcastle who will heading to the Thames with all guns blazing in their pursuit of a Europa League place.