A SLOPPY, nervous Newcastle performance was punished when, at a cold Craven Cottage, they failed to win for the ninth time in ten matches.
On a night when Newcastle’s passing had been poor and defending panicky, a great goal from Hatem Ben Arfa gave them hope of an unexpected point.
But poor defending at a 63rd-minute free-kick taken by former Magpie Damien Duff saw it quickly extinguished in a thoroughly deserved 2-1 defeat.
Hugo Rodallega beat Fabricio Coloccini to the ball and headed into the net.
Coloccini almost made amends eight minutes later, but his shot from the left corner of the penalty area hit the junction of far post and crossbar.
If the Argentinian’s shot deserved better, Newcastle’s performance did not.
They trailed to a 19th-minute goal when Duff laid the ball back to Steve Sidwell, whose shot deflected in.
The long-range strike from Ben Arfa, making his first appearance after a hamstring strain, also took a touch, the ball looping off Jon Arne Riise’s shins to make former Middlesbrough goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer look foolish.
His 54th-minute goal had been reward for a better start to the second half from the Magpies.
However, defeat means that if Sunderland beat Reading tonight, Newcastle will be only two points above the rele-gation zone with two of their next three games against the Manchester clubs.