After watching Newcastle narrowly overcome Stoke at St James’ Park in the early days of March manager Alan Pardew remarked, somewhat presumptuously, that his side were ‘done’ in the battle to avoid the drop. Less than a month and three games later the Magpies are still deeply embroiled in a fight for their Premier League existence. Defeats at Wigan and Manchester City left them just three points above the drop zone with seven games left to save their skin. Thursday’s demoralising Europa League quarter-final defeat at the hands of Benfica was the last thing Pardew and his squad needed with individual errors costing them dear in Lisbon. Now it’s down to 51-year-old and his backroom staff to galvanise a mentally and physically fatigued squad to obtain a much needed victory at home to resurgent Fulham. Thankfully for the Newcastle boss they’ve been unbeatable at St James’ Park lately, winning four out of the last five, and with several key players returning from injury it points to another successful afternoon on Tyneside.
The Cottagers will head to the North East in buoyant mood after beating QPR on Monday to rubber stamp their Premier League ticket for next term. Martin Jol’s men are on a five-match unbeaten run and currently sit comfortably in 10th – a position Pardew will undoubtedly look up at with envy. With the mental pressure of relegation all but eradicated it will give Fulham a chance to express themselves against a Newcastle side suffering from another European hangover. One man who won’t pass up an opportunity to let his hair down is self-confessed Toon Army fan Dimitar Berbatov, who is seeking a seventh goal in as many games. And he’s not the type to let sentiment get in the way of personal accolades meaning the West London side and their resident Bulgarian will be tricky customers for their anxious hosts.
Yoann Gouffran returns for Newcastle after being cup-tied for the Europa League quarter-final clash with Benfica on Thursday. Full-back Mathieu Debuchy has an outside chance of playing as does midfielder Cheick Tiote with both recovering from hamstring injuries. Massadio Haidara and Fabricio Coloccini remain sidelined.
Steve Sidwell starts a three-match ban after his red card against QPR on Monday. Emmanuel Frimpong is likely to step in to fill the midfield breach left by Sidwell. Ashkan Dejagah is a doubt for Fulham.
What the managers said…
“We’ve done so much right tonight and got ourselves into a great position with Papiss’ goal. The away goal could come into it if we get the first goal at St James’ Park because if we can get that first goal, we are only going to need one more. In terms of the performance and the players, I can’t fault them. We came here to have a go at them and we did that. They caused some problems to us just before half-time for ten to 15 minutes, but other than that we were in control of the game. If it was 2-1, you would think we would have a good chance at home, but it is an uphill chance for us now. We can be proud of the performance, but disappointed with the result.” Alan Pardew insists Newcastle can still make it to the Europa League semi-final’s (ITV Sport)
“Everyone tells me that in England 39/40 points will do and I have worked here for five or six seasons and in one or two seasons 37/38 points was enough and we have got 39 points now and hopefully we will be fine, but in this league you never know. We have got 39 points now so hopefully we can look up now and get as high as possible.” We lost [Clint] Dempsey, [Mousa] Dembele, Danny Murphy and I thought it could be a difficult season for us but in the first week in April to be on 39 points I think is fantastic.” Martin Jol wants Fulham to continue their strong end to the season (Sky Sports)
Pre-Match Statistic: Newcastle have conceded 17 goals in nine games and haven’t kept a clean sheet in the Premier League since January.
Prediction: Newcastle United 3-1 Fulham