Newcastle United 0 Fulham 0

CHRIS Hughton has instructed his players to take some time out to relax this week.

But whether or not he can join them by switching off for the first time in months is another matter, after a second successive home fixture without a win presented new problems.

These are not times of crisis at St James’ Park, far from it.

Newcastle sit eighth in the Premier League, closer to the top four than they are to the bottom three.

The danger, however, is that expectations have grown after a promising start to life back in the top-flight, when stunning victories over Aston Villa, Everton, Sunderland and Arsenal have highlighted what Hughton’s group are capable of.

But there are concerns to address. Why have Newcastle been unable to produce against the division’s lesser lights, particularly at home in front of 44,000-plus fanatical black and whites? And how do they cope when injuries and suspensions hit?

With Joey Barton and Cheik Tiote – two of Newcastle’s most consistent performers this season – banned for this Saturday’s trip to Bolton and Andy Carroll’s groin problem meaning he is likely to join Shola Ameobi on the sidelines, Hughton’s “international break” is likely to be spent thinking about a change in formation and personnel.

“This will be a good week for us,” said Hughton, who has only called on 18 players out of his 25-man pool to start matches in the league this season. The lads have worked hard and we have to make sure we can rest those players who have played most of the games for us. It will be a recuperation week.

“For a day I might get my feet up myself. It is a lot of work.

“I do take the occasional day off but you can’t switch off, you don’t have a day off where you do nothing. I hope I can squeeze one in. It would be nice.”

At least he does not have to contemplate trying to win at home after two frustrating results against Blackburn and Fulham at St James’ Park.

They will head for Bolton on the back of three wins in four away from Tyneside.

For all that Carroll, the seven-goal striker who was in line to earn his first England cap against France on Wednesday though injury looks to have scuppered his chances, has been one of the surprise packages of the Premier League this season, more often than not Newcastle have struggled to create.

Against Fulham, Carroll was the main threat to the visiting defence, even though former Newcastle defender Aaron Hughes and the impressive Breda Hangeland did well to restrict his success rate.

Carroll went close in the first half with a volley, when he was denied by Kevin Nolan on the goalline, and then goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer made a fine save to stop an even greater volley from 25 yards after the restart.

Over the course of 90 minutes, though, Newcastle just didn’t create enough, with Danny Guthrie’s occasional passes and Peter Lovenkrands’ wasteful heading really the only dangers to the Fulham defence.

But if Hughton should be thinking about ways of improving creativity, he should also be satisfied with the performances of his back five.

Mike Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini have grown as a pairing and when Andy Johnson, Clint Dempsey or Mousa Dembele broke through, goalkeeper Tim Krul was at his best.

“Teams are going to come and set up negatively at St James’ Park and we have to learn to deal with it,” said Krul. “To be honest if you look at the points we have got at this stage of the season we are really pleased with the way we have started. All four defenders have been excellent this season. That is what Chris wants from us. To keep a really good defensive shape.

“Having a settled back four is really helpful for me. Getting a clean sheet means getting more confidence and more experience. That goes together. If you have such a good team it gives everyone confidence. Clean sheets are the most important thing for a goalie. That is what you look for. Krul has only kept two clean sheets since taking over from Steve Harper, but he was relieved in the latter stages when Dembele struck the crossbar and frustrations among the fans would have been significantly higher had that gone in.

Despite avoiding a fourth league defeat of the season in front of the Gallowgate, a goalless draw with Fulham leaves Hughton with more questions to answer in his head during the day off he has in mind.

Match facts

Bookings: Williamson (45, foul); Hangeland (57, foul); Tiote (66, foul); Murphy (90, unsporting behaviour)

Referee: Lee Probert (Gloucester) - tried to let things go but infuriated both managers and fans with his decisions. 4

Attendance: 44,686

Entertainment: ✰✰


8 KRUL: Made three crucial saves in the first half and was solid throughout;

6 Simpson: Defended well but his distribution going forward was disappointing

6 Williamson: After a sloppy start he turned it around and made some timely blocks

7 Coloccini: Wanted too much time on the ball occasionally but was still a strong presence

7 Enrique: Tried a number of times to break down the left and was sound defensively

5 Guthrie: Failed to show that he deserves to be in the team despite taking all of the dead balls, but did lay on a couple of good chances

5 Tiote: Went from one extreme to the other; dreadful at times, but influential too despite his fifth yellow of the season

5 Nolan: Never looked like influencing things except when he blocked Carroll’s first half volley

6 Gutierrez: Was the liveliest Newcastle player but, as is often the case, lacked a final ball

4 Lovenkrands: Heading was wayward and his place will be under threat for the next match

7 Carroll: Had a couple of terrific efforts on goal but was denied by Schwarzer’s strong hands


Ranger (for Lovenkrands 76) Routledge (for Guthrie 76) (not used): Campbell, Smith, Xisco, S Taylor, Soderberg (gk).

FULHAM (4-4-2): SCHWARZER 8; Kelly 6, Hangeland 8, Hughes 7, Duff 6; Dempsey 7, Davies 6, Murphy 6, Gera 5 (Etuhu 70, 5); Dembele 5, A Johnson 4 (E Johnson 89).

Subs (not used): Stockdale (gk), Pantsil, Kamara, Greening, Briggs.


MARK Schwarzer – was the main reason why Carroll failed to add to his account.