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Papiss Cisse eased Newcastle United's relegation fears with an injury-time winner against Fulham on a day when it appeared as if luck had deserted the Senegal striker.
Alan Pardew's side had spurned many chances at St James' Park against a Fulham side who suffered their first defeat in six games. But with frustration and anxiety growing, the Senegal forward finally beat Mark Schwarzer in the third minute of added-on time for his 11th goal of the season.
After a run of three straight defeats, two in the Barclays Premier League and a 3-1 defeat by Benfica on Thursday in the first leg of a UEFA Europa League quarter-final tie, this was a crucial win for Newcastle.
The home side dominated in terms of opportunities after Dimitar Berbatov, with four goals in four games coming into this match, had audaciously curled a 20-yard shot just over the right-hand angle of Tim Krul's crossbar and post.
But the win was not without cost because after Steven Taylor had agonisingly planted a header just over the crossbar in running on to a right-wing cross from Moussa Sissoko, Pardew's injury woes increased further. Already without a host of big names for the run-in, the sight of right-back Davide Santon pulling up and clutching the top of his left thigh in the 15th minute will only have intensified Pardew's anxiety.
Beyond that, one sliced clearance from Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa to a low left-wing ball from Damien Duff was the only other serious moment of concern for Pardew and the Magpies through to shortly before the interval.
Instead, going into the break, they could have been in front, only to see three opportunities go begging in the space of six minutes for Cisse either side of the half-hour. Twice Cisse was set up by Sissoko, but on both occasions his right-foot shots were wide, albeit his first much closer than his second as Schwarzer was relieved to see it flash just beyond his left-hand post.
The visitors, though, weathered the storm and countered late on with two chances of their own in a two-minute burst of activity. From Berbatov's through-ball, Bryan Ruiz's angled drive was blocked by Yanga-Mbiwa for a corner eventually swung into the heart of the area by Giorgios Karagounis.
In a melee, Stanislav Manolev was the man who managed to get a boot on the ball inside the six-yard box, but a host of bodies denied him an opener in a half that eventually petered out.
For 20 minutes after the interval, however, it was all Newcastle and another sustained spell where the only thing lacking was a goal. Schwarzer was beaten in the 53rd minute via a deflection on to his bar as Emmanuel Frimpong, on minutes earlier for the injured Eyong Enoh, was in the way of a dipping shot from Vurnon Anita, who had replaced Santon.
Five minutes later and Cisse was guilty of another miss, this time stabbing at a low ball in from Yoan Gouffran that Philippe Senderos nor Hangeland could cut out.
After Schwarzer saved an angled drive from Taylor, United then hit a post twice in a matter of seconds. From a Sylvain Marveaux corner, Gouffran's initial flick appeared to brush Sascha Riether on the line on the way to clipping the right-hand upright. The rebound fell to Cisse but he sidefooted against the same piece of woodwork.
Proving they were still in the game, Fulham almost stole it in the 68th minute as it took a brilliant fingertip save from Krul to deny Berbatov with a header after he had latched on to a free-kick from John Arne Riise.
Towards the close, Cisse's agonising day continued as a goal-bound header to a right-wing cross from Anita was superbly turned away by Schwarzer in the 88th minute. But with the clock ticking, Cisse latched on to a loose ball in the area to beat Schwarzer from close range.
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew: "It's been a tough week for us. We played really well against Benfica but came back with a result we would rather not have had. Then, playing against real quality opposition today, we have had to pull on everything to try to get a win.
"In the second half we played with a lot more composure, which was missing in the first half, probably because we were tired or nervous. But we deserved the goal, even though it came very, very late. I'm overjoyed for the players, they have worked really, really hard today. The emotions at the end from Papiss and myself were because of the relief from all that.
"We're far from safe yet, the whole of the bottom half is looking over their shoulder the wrong way, so we still have work to do."
Fulham manager Martin Jol: “It was a very difficult result to take today, especially because I thought we controlled the game at times. In the first half we played some very good football and, as a result, you could tell that the home fans weren’t happy. All we needed was that break.
“To be fair, we had possibilities to go in front. Hugo Rodallega was unlucky to lose his balance at one point, and Tim Krul made some great saves, particularly from Berbatov.
“If you don’t take your chances, you have to be sure to soak up the pressure at the other end, but unfortunately we couldn’t do that. With so little time left, they [Newcastle] got their goal. They deserve credit for it too, because they never gave up.
“Cisse is a very sharp player, and ultimately, he was the difference at the end. He has the ability to score important goals and we didn’t deal with that. It’s not the first time he has scored so late in a game, so you have to be alert to that – right until the final whistle.”
“I can’t complain too much, though, because since 1 January we have done ever so well. The team is settled and has an excellent mentality. We have Aston Villa next Saturday, away from home again, and it will be a chance for us to pick things up again.”
|12 May 2013||v QPR (A)|
|27 Apr 2013||v Liverpool (H)|
|19 May 2013||v Arsenal (H)|
|20 Apr 2013||v West Brom (A)|
|14 Apr 2013||v Sunderland (H)|
|04 May 2013||v West Ham (A)|