By Anthony Marshall, at Craven Cottage
Fulham 1 (Duff '67)
Damien Duff came back to haunt Newcastle on Wednesday night as his second half effort earned Fulham a 1-0 win at Craven Cottage.
And it was arguably no more than the hosts deserved for enjoying large spells of domination and forcing Harper into at least three crucial saves.
Newcastle offered very little in the final third, with only a Nile Ranger shot troubling Cottagers stopper Mark Schwarzer. And their cause wasn't helped by a serious injury to striker Shola Ameobi early in the game, who left the field with a suspected fractured jaw.
It was the hosts who carved out the first chance of the evening on five minutes. Newcastle were unable to sufficiently clear Damien Duff's left-wing corner, and when the ball came back to the former Magpie, he was allowed to cut inside, run across the edge of the area and fire in a shot which went wide with the aid of a deflection.
And Newcastle were dealt a huge blow just moments later. Shola Ameobi was caught by an elbow in an aerial challenge with Steve Sidwell, and following lengthy treatment the big striker was clearly too groggy to continue.
Teenage front man Nile Ranger was introduced in his place and instantly looked a handful, winning a couple of flick ons and beating Aaron Hughes for pace down the left flank.
Only a crucial intervention from Sidwell prevented the 18-year-old scoring his maiden Premier League goal in the 20th minute, as Fulham's new signing flicked his head at a Joey Barton free-kick with Ranger lurking unmarked behind.
On 28 minutes, visiting keeper Steve Harper had to be alert, racing out of his area to clear as Clint Dempsey broke the offside trap, and he then got down well to keep hold of Sidwell's low shot from distance.
Dempsey, who had looked dangerous in the opening period, then lashed a close range effort into the side netting when Danny Murphy's free-kick somehow dropped at his feet, as Fulham continued to press for the breakthrough.
Fulham continued where they had left off and within seconds of the restart Duff had tricked his way away from Jose Enrique, and skipped inside to a shooting position. But as the winger pulled the trigger, Mike Williamson was across superbly to block.
And in the 50th minute they should have taken a deserved lead. Mousa Dembele created space on the edge of the area before slipping in Dempsey, whose near-post shot was saved by the legs of Harper.
As the loose ball bounced around the area it appeatred at the feet of Duff, unmarked at the back post and with the whole goal at his mercy. However, from inside the six-yard box the Republic of Ireland international somehow prodded wide when it looked impossible to miss.
Newcastle chances were few and far between but they carved out two opportunities within a minute. First, Ranger chased a seemingly lost cause down the left before pulling the ball back to Danny Guthrie.
His delivery was met by Leon Best at the far post, who could only head just over.
And then seconds later a wonderful ball in from Jonas Gutierrez was sliced inches wide of his own goal by Fulham left-back Chris Baird.
But Fulham roared back down the other end and when Williamson was caught in possession they worked the ball wide to Dempsey, whose shot was destined for the roof of the net until the intervention of Harper's fingertips.
The home side finally broke the deadlock in the 67th minute and it came through a familiar face to Newcastle fans. Duff chased a long Murphy pass over the top, beat WIlliamson for pace and gave Harper no chance with a clinical finish.
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew attempted to change his side's fortunes by introducing Peter Lovenkrands in place of Best, but Fulham continued to threaten and Baird fizzed a low free-kick into the hands of Harper.
And substitute Gael Kakuta, on loan from Chelsea, should have made it two on 81 minutes, connecting with Dembele's cut back but only firing straight at Harper.
Newcastle's keeper was by far the busier of the stoppers, but Mark Schwarzer was called upon soon after and excelled - blocking at point blank range from Ranger's turn and shot. However, normal service was soon resumed as Kakuta released Dempsey, only for Harper to sprint off his line and bravely keep out the American's shot with his body.
The visitors forced some late pressure with a series of balls into the box, but were unable to break down a stubborn Fulham rearguard, led by ex-Magpie Aaron Hughes.
Fulham (4-4-2): Mark Schwarzer; John Pantsil, Brede Hangeland, Aaron Hughes, Chris Baird; Clint Dempsey, Danny Murphy (c) (Zoltan Gera, 87), Steve Sidwell, Damien Duff (Simon Davies, 87); Andrew Johnson (Gael Kakuta, 71), Mousa Dembele
Subs not used: David Stockdale, Carlos Salcido, Jonathan Greening, Diomansy Kamara
Newcastle (4-4-2): Steve Harper; Danny Simpson, Mike Williamson, Fabricio Coloccini, Jose Enrique; Joey Barton, Danny Guthrie, Kevin Nolan (c), Jonas Gutierrez; Shola Ameobi (Nile Ranger, 13), Leon Best (Peter Lovenkrands, 72)
Subs not used: Tim Krul, James Perch, Sol Campbell, Michael Richardson, Shane Ferguson
Referee: Mike Jones