By Anthony Marshall - Newcastle United Journalist
At St. James' Park
Newcastle United 2 (Best 48, 66)
Fulham 1 (Dempsey 88)
A second half double from Leon Best extended Newcastle United's unbeaten start to the season to four games as they beat Fulham 2-1 at St. James' Park on Sunday.
A drab first half saw chances few and far between for either side, but Best sparked the contest in to life three minutes after the restart with a close-range finish after Yohan Cabaye's shot had been pushed on to the crossbar.
And the former Coventry striker added his and the hosts' second when he finished off a swift counter-attack involving Gabriel Obertan and Demba Ba.
Clint Dempsey halved the deficit with time running out but Fulham were unable to salvage anything from the contest and Newcastle claimed all three points.
The first chance of any note came Fulham's way on seven minutes but, following an extended spell of possession, midfielder Steve Sidwell could only blaze harmlessly over from 20 yards.
Newcastle hit back straight away and Peter Lovenkrands tried to re-direct Yohan Cabaye's mishit shot, heading narrowly wide of the upright, while Cabaye was inches away from connecting with a low Obertan pass on the edge of the box which would have surely led to a shot on goal.
Chances were few and far between as both sides had plenty of possession but with no final ball. Ryan Taylor, Newcastle's free-kick maestro, attempted to net his third goal in as many games direct from a set-piece on 33 minutes but fired into the wall.
It took until a minute before the break before the best chance of the half was created. Obertan's lay-off to Cheik Tiote was delivered into the danger zone by the midfielder. And allthough Jonas Gutierrez rose highest above the Fulham defence, he was unable to gain enough power on his header to find a way past Mark Schwarzer, who saved down low to his right.
There was more action in the final exchanges of the half than there had been in the rest of the opening 45 minutes. First, Best saw a shot deflected behind following a brilliant run from Obertan, then from the resulting corner Cabaye forced Schwarzer to tip his curling strike over the top, and then finally Ryan Taylor stabbed an effort agonisingly wide of the upright.
If the first half had taken a long, long time to get going then the second sparked into life immediately. Ryan Taylor's throw-in set Cabaye up nicely for a long range strike, and the French international's 25-yard effort bounced just in front of Schwarzer, forcing the diving keeper to push it up and onto the crossbar. But Best was on hand to tap home from a couple of yards out and break the deadlock.
The goal drew a response from Fulham, who finally forced Tim Krul into action in the 56th minute. Damien Duff's inswinging cross from the right flank was met by the head of Steve Sidwell, but Newcastle's Dutch stopper produced a fine save to turn the ball over the bar.
Dempsey volleyed the resulting corner wide at the near post, before Duff flashed a low strike into the side netting just past the hour mark.
But the pace in the Magpies' ranks was always going to make them dangerous on the break, and that proved the case as they doubled their advantage on 66 minutes through that man Best again. Obertan strode clear of the Fulham midfield before delivering an inch-perfect diagonal ball from left to right on to the chest of substitute Demba Ba.
The big striker controlled and then sent a driven volley across the face of goal, where a clever backheel from Best set himself up for the scoring chance, which he tucked under the on-rushing Schwarzer.
Krul did well to beat away a Chris Baird shot from 25 yards, after a short free-kick had been played into the defender's path, and Dempsey dragged an effort well wide after finding himself in a good position on the left-hand side of the area. But Krul saved his best for 77 minutes, somehow keeping out Danny Murphy's point-blank header after th Fulham skipper found himself completely unmarked and on the end of Sidwell's chipped cross.
Murphy and Dempsey both wasted free-kicks from good positions for the visitors but they finally had a lifeline with two minutes left on the clock when the latter met the former's set-piece unmarked to head home.
It was too little, too late though for the Cottagers as Newcastle held firm for their third victory in the space of eight days.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Tim Krul; Danny Simpson, Steven Taylor, Fabricio Coloccini (c), Ryan Taylor; Gabriel Obertan, Yohan Cabaye, Cheik Tiote, Jonas Gutierrez; Leon Best (Haris Vuckic 78, Alan Smith 86), Peter Lovenkrands (Demba Ba 62)
Subs not used: Ole Soderberg, Shane Ferguson, Sylvain Marveaux, Sammy Ameobi
Fulham (4-4-2): Mark Schwarzer; Chris Baird, Brede Hangeland, Aaron Hughes, Matthew Briggs; Damien Duff, Steve Sidwell, Danny Murphy (c), Pajtim Kasami (Andrew Johnson 73); Clint Dempsey, Mousa Dembele
Subs not used: Neil Etheridge, Stephen Kelly, Philippe Senderos, Dickson Etuhu, Marcel Gecov, Karim Frei
Referee: Kevin Friend
Attendance: 42,684 (433 Fulham)