Belfast Telegraph

Newcastle held to goalless stalemate by Premier League bottom side Fulham

The Magpies failed to muster a single shot on target.

Rafael Benitez (left) and Claudio Ranieri’s sides earned a point apiece (Owen Humphreys/PA)
Rafael Benitez (left) and Claudio Ranieri’s sides earned a point apiece (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Comedy fan Rafael Benitez had the smile wiped from his face as Newcastle were held to a drab goalless Premier League draw by bottom-of-the-table Fulham.

The Magpies did not manage a single shot on target to leave the Spaniard, who admitted in the run-up to the game that he loves English sitcoms, stony-faced ahead of an intensely difficult Boxing Day trip to face leaders Liverpool.

Opposite number Claudio Ranieri may have been marginally happier after watching his side keep a first top-flight clean sheet, but they too failed to trouble Magpies goalkeeper Martin Dubravka to any great extent in an awful game in front of a crowd of 51,237 at St James’ Park.

Having seen Aleksandar Mitrovic struggle to find his feet at Newcastle, the hosts ran out acutely aware he has done so since his £27million summer switch to Craven Cottage, and he served a warning with an early shot which Dubravka saved comfortably at the near post.

The Serbia international was the focal point as basement side Fulham started significantly the brighter with Andre Schurrle and Jean Michael Seri also working hard to stretch the home defence.

Benitez’s men started to work their way into the game, although without any great quality until Ki Sung-yueng picked out skipper Jamaal Lascelles with a 18th-minute free-kick and saw the defender’s header across goal hacked clear by Denis Odoi.

But the game grew increasingly untidy as both sides surrendered possession cheaply at regular intervals and did little meaningful with the ball when they did have it.

Fulham defender Alfie Mawson was left with an unwelcome souvenir of his trip to Tyneside when he was floored by his own stopper, Sergio Rico, as he tried to head Christian Atsu’s blocked shot clear, although he was able to continue after treatment.

Dubravka saved Seri’s 41st-minute free-kick comfortably and Matt Ritchie saw two shots blocked in quick succession at the other end seconds later.

Mitrovic delivered a low 47th-minute cross wastefully into Dubravka’s waiting arms after Calum Chambers had played him into space within seconds of the restart, but both sides were misfiring horribly as they attempted to gain the upper hand.

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It was a frustrating afternoon for Benitez (Mike Egerton/PA)

As the tempo of the game started to rise, it was the visitors who found themselves pinned back, although Benitez’s frustration of the sidelines was abundantly clear as the team continued to fail miserably in the search for a final ball.

They thought they had succeeded 16 minutes from time when Matt Ritchie picked out Fabian Schar with a near-post corner, but the defender’s header looped over the bar.

Substitute Kenedy saw hopeful appeals for a penalty waved away after going down under Joe Bryan’s challenge and Mitrovic was appealing in vain for a spot-kick for handball against Lascelles at the other end with seconds remaining, but there was to be no late twist.

PA

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