By Anthony Marshall - Newcastle United Club Reporter
At Craven Cottage
Fulham 2 (Sidwell 19, Rodallega 63)
Newcastle United 1 (Ben Arfa 54)
Hatem Ben Arfa struck another stunner but it was enough as Newcastle United slipped to a 2-1 defeat away at Fulham in the Premier League on Monday night.
The Frenchman's goal was sandwiched either side of efforts from Steve Sidwell and Hugo Rodallega as the Magpies' miserable record at Craven Cottage continued.
Sidwell struck Fulham into a first half lead when his shot deflected off the back of Mike Williamson to sneak in via the underside of the crossbar.
Ben Arfa levelled things up early in the second period, wrongfooting Cottagers' stopper Mark Schwarzer from distance to give the visitors hope.
But Rodallega nodded home from close range to seal all three points for the hosts.
Fulham started brightly and with less than two minutes on the clock former Magpie Damien Duff slipped a ball through the centre for fellow winger Alex Kacaniklic to chase.
But United held firm and began to grow into the contest. Williamson looped a header over the top, Vurnon Anita dragged a long-range strike well wide and Papiss Cisse's right-wing cross just fell out of the reach of the Demba Ba, who was in acres of space.
Fulham missed a glorious chance to break the deadlock in the 18th minute.
Duff was again the provider, cutting in off the right flank to deliver a ball onto the chest of Hugo Rodallega, only to see the unmarked striker control well but volley high over the top.
They were not to rue thst miss for long, however, as almost immediately the Cottagers took the lead. Duff delivered from the right, low into the path of Sidwell, whose first-time shot struck the back of Williamson and spun up and over Tim Krul, going in via the underside of the crossbar.
United were stunned and almost conceded again less than 60 seconds later. Cheick Tiote sold Coloccini short with a pass in the middle of the pitch and Berbatov knocked it past the skipper before bearing down on goal.
However he met his match in Krul, who stood up well to block the Bulgarian's effort and keep the visitors in the contest.
Fulham continued to push for number two and only a combination of Krul and Williamson managed to scramble clear Berbatov's half-volley from eight yards, after the visitors failed to deal with Sascha Riether's cross.
But as the clock ticked past the half hour mark, Newcastle showed they still had plenty to offer and almost conjured up an equaliser straight off the training ground.
With everyone expecting Vurnon Anita's corner to be sent into the heart of the six-yard box, the summer signing instead floated the set piece to the edge of the area, where it was met by the on-rushing Coloccini.
His header was powerful and on its way into the top corner until Riether got up brilliantly to nod away from underneath his own crossbar.
A minute before the break Coloccini turned provider, playing a lovely ball with the outside of his boot into the path of Jonas Gutierrez. The midfielder ran at the Fulham defence but saw his shot diverted behind for a corner.
After the restart, United continued where they had left off and Cisse combined with Anita for the latter to drill a 20-yard effort inches over the top.
And nine minutes into the second half Ben Arfa's stunner drew them level.
Picking up the ball wide on the right with seemingly nothing on, the French international jinked one way and then the next, making a yard of space for himself before curling a brilliant shot into the top corner at the near post, completely wrong-footing Schwarzer.
The goal knocked the stuffing out of Fulham but they almost snuck back in front on 62 minutes. Danny Simpson lost possession and the ball was worked into the path of Sidwell, who was only denied by a fine one-on-one stop by Krul.
However the keeper could do nothing, seconds later, to prevent Fulham from adding their second of the night. Duff's inswinging free-kick was right onto the forehead of Rodallega on the edge of the six-yard box, and the former Wigan man made no mistake.
It was not through the big front man, however, but centre-back Coloccini, who almost put in his own contender for Goal of the Season when he curled an effort against the woodwork from the edge of the box.
Ameobi, Ba, Gutierrez and Davide Santon all warmed the palms of Schwarzer from distance as time ticked away, but they were unable to find a second equaliser of the night and left the capital empty-handed.
Fulham (4-4-2): Mark Schwarzer; Sascha Riether, Brede Hangeland (c), Aaron Hughes, John Arne Riise; Damien Duff, Steve Sidwell, Chris Baird, Alex Kacaniklic (Ashkan Dejagah 62); Dimitar Berbatov, Hugo Rodallega (Mladen Petric 87)
Subs not used: Neil Etheridge, Philippe Senderos, Giorgos Karagounis, Mahamadou Diarra, Kieran Richardson
Newcastle United: (4-3-3): Tim Krul; Danny Simpson, Mike Williamson, Fabricio Coloccini (c), Davide Santon; Vurnon Anita (Sylvain Marveaux 86), Cheick Tiote (Gael Bigirimana 86), Jonas Gutierrez; Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba, Hatem Ben Arfa (Shola Ameobi 70)
Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire)
Bookings: Fulham - none; Newcastle - none