THE last time Newcastle United visited Fulham, in January, Davide Santon looked like a little boy lost.
Tonight they return desperately hoping he shrugs off the groin injury threatening his status as their only player to start every Premier League game this season.
It has, according to manager Alan Pardew, been a rapid growing-up period for a 21-year-old starting to appreciate his own talents.
“The biggest thing about Davide is he has become a man,” Pardew reflected. “He was definitely a young man when he arrived but he has grown up.
“Even though he had vast experience with Inter Milan and Italy, the fact he got picked for the last international squad has made him realise he has been one of our most successful players this season. It has convinced him he could potentially be Italy’s right or left-back moving forward. That is great news for us.”
Although the right-footed No.3 has started on the left in every league game except Manchester United’s visit this season, Pardew still does not appear to have made up his mind about Santon’s best position. Where he plays in the second half of the season will depend on the January transfer window.
“What will determine his future role more than anything is the players I bring in,” said Pardew. “That will determine whether he becomes a right-back or left-back for us.”
Pardew is yet to take a point from Craven Cottage as Newcastle’s manager, although he thinks his two defeats there have served him well in the long run.
“The first game (in February 2011) was a miserable game and a miserable dressing room before we even started,” he recalled. “The loss of Andy Carroll a few days earlier (controversially sold to Liverpool) and the fact no one came in, definitely hit us hard. Last year (when Fulham turned a 2-1 half-time deficit into a 5-2 victory) was possibly the best we have played since I have been here in the first half. But in the second half, it just all went wrong.
“We learnt a lot from both games. I am hoping I learn a lot from the next one but from a more positive note. I learnt a lot of my team and how to deal with certain individuals, but in a negative way, down there.”