Anyone going to Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final second leg against Benfica need not rush. For the third home game running, Papiss Cissé waited until added time to score Newcastle United’s winner.
The bench-clearing delirium which followed highlighted what an important goal it was. John Carver did not quite replicate Brian Kidd’s famous on-pitch celebration 20 years ago this week, but he was not far off.
Until then, it had looked like being one of those days for Newcastle when they could least afford it.
Another injury had struck, this time to Davide Santon, and an increasingly dominant performance was being undermined by poor finishing, with Cissé the chief culprit.
Had he not found the net in the 93rd minute, Newcastle might well have been complaining about a penalty never given, but legal or otherwise Sascha Riether’s goalline clearance presented Cissé with a pretty routine chance. For the third time in the match, Newcastle struck the woodwork.
The chance he put away was much harder. Yohan Cabaye’s shot into a crowd of players looked like the latest wasted opportunity of Newcastle’s goalmouth siege but Cissé flicked the ball up with his right foot and looped it past Mark Schwarzer.
When the final whistle blew a couple of minutes later, the wild celebrations restarted. Alan Pardew pumped his fists at the crowd, who were just being told that Sunderland – leading when the score was read out at half-time – had suffered another defeat.
It provides the breathing space which will allow a side unbeaten at home since January to settle for a draw from Sunday’s Tyne-Wear derby, albeit they should and surely will want more.
“We felt at half-time this was going to be our day,” reflected Fulham manager Martin Jol. The pessimists on the terraces would definitely have agreed.
Newcastle’s passing looked nervy and an early pulled hamstring for Santon forced a tactical rethink as 4-4-2 was abandoned and Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran moved into what have been their customary Magpies roles.
Injuries continue to hamper Newcastle while they are in the Europa League, made victims of their own success by the competition’s ludicrous schedule.
The elegant Dimitar Berbatov had the game’s first chance. He hit a beautiful shot with the outside of his boot but it curled just over the crossbar.
Newcastle slowly got a foothold, but it would be 55 minutes before they forced Schwarzer to save.
Steven Taylor headed over at a corner, Cabaye’s 30-yard shot on the turn was wild and Gouffran volleyed into a crowd of players.
Often peeling left, Fulham found Cissé hard to pick up, but his shooting did not match the rest of his play. Twice he tried to curl efforts in from the left-hand side of the penalty area but both were off target, one embarrassingly so as he leant back. Brede Hangeland quickly smothered another effort.
For as long as the ball stayed out of the Fulham net there was always cause for nervousness with Berbatov and the equally languid Bryan Ruiz, a former Pardew transfer target, in Fulham’s attack.
Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa had a heart-stopping moment midway through the first half when he failed to get a clean contact on Damien Duff’s cross, which skewed off for a corner, and a heart-warming one when he blocked Ruiz’s goalbound shot.
A minute after that, with half-time approaching, Tim Krul blocked Stanislav Manolev’s shot on the turn.
Newcastle started the second half with good intensity and nearly had their reward when Vurnon Anita’s 30-yard shot hit Emmanuel Frimpong and dropped on to the crossbar. A minute later Schwarzer had his first save to make, but only because Cissé – again falling back – mishit his cross so badly.
Cissé’s touch from a Gouffran ball took him away from Hangeland into the area, but straight into the goalkeeper’s path.
It took centre-back Taylor to produce Newcastle’s first convincing shot, but Schwarzer smothered it at the near post. Finally, after 65 minutes, came Newcastle’s moment. Through bad luck and bad finishing, they failed to take it.
Gouffran’s header was played on to his own post by Riether, moving his body into the ball. It looked like it may have hit the point of his shoulder. With the linesman’s view obscured, Kevin Friend saw no reason to allow Newcastle’s penalty appeals. If that was out of the Magpies’ hands, the rebound presented Cissé with a perfect opportunity to render the arguments redundant. From six yards he hit the post.
Krul’s flying save as Berbatov climbed highest to John Arne Riise’s free-kick three minutes later reminded the home fans of how costly the missed opportunity could be, as if they needed it.
When Shola Ameobi headed a good chance wide, Cabaye floated a shot off target and Schwarzer got down low to Sissoko’s header it looked like the chance had gone.
Sylvain Marveaux had a glimpse of goal in the third of five added minutes, but Hangeland heroicly threw himself in the way.
For all Newcastle’s failings this season, a lack of persistence is not one. Within seconds Cabaye was trying his luck again and while the shot was poor, Cissé was more than able to make something of it.