Goals from Mark Viduka and Michael Owen ended Newcastle United’s wretched run of 13 English Premiership games without a win as they beat struggling Fulham 2-0 at St James’ Park on Saturday.
The result, Newcastle’s first win in Kevin Keegan’s second spell as their manager after nine games without a victory since the former England coach’s return, eased the Magpies’ fears of being drawn into the relegation battle.
But defeat left Fulham second from bottom and facing a fight to maintain their top-flight status.
Afterwards, a relieved Keegan said: ”It will stop people saying ‘they [Newcastle]’ haven’t won under Kevin Keegan’. When we had to dig in as a team, we stuck together and maybe that’s the thing these players have been criticised for in the past. I can feel a good spirit around the place. We just needed a win to endorse that and we got it.”
Keegan praised the contribution of Owen, who, like his manager, made his reputation as a striker at Liverpool before winning England honours. ”He’s been absolutely superb, not just for his goals but for his leadership on the field. He’s a great team player.”
At the other end of the table, Everton were left two points behind city rivals Liverpool, having played one more game, in the race for the fourth Champions League place after being held to a 1-1 draw at home to West Ham.
Aigeybeni Yakubu opened the scoring in the eighth minute at Goodison Park before Hammers striker Dean Ashton equalised an hour later.
The result might have been worse for Everton with teenager Freddie Sears twice denied late on, first by goalkeeper Tim Howard and then, after he had beaten the United States international, by the post.
”I’m disappointed we didn’t take all three points, but maybe in the end it was a good point,” said Everton manager David Moyes. ”It leaves us in fifth place and we gained a point on the teams below us [Portsmouth and Aston Villa]. That’s really important.”
All the top four are in action on Sunday with leaders Manchester United facing Liverpool and Chelsea (third) taking on second-placed Arsenal in a London derby.
Newcastle weren’t the only north-east side left celebrating a win on Saturday.
Sunderland moved further away from the drop zone with a 1-0 win away to Euro hopefuls Aston Villa, their first league win on their travels this season, thanks to Michael Chopra’s 83rd-minute goal, while Middlesbrough beat bottom-of-the-table Derby County by the same score line.
Reading moved five points clear of danger and nudged Birmingham nearer the bottom three with a 2-1 win at the Madejski Stadium.
Bolton remained in the relegation zone after a goalless draw at home to Manchester City, while Blackburn Rovers beat Wigan 3-1 in a match where both sides finished down to 10 men.
In the day’s early Premier League match, Tottenham beat Portsmouth 2-0 to dent Pompey’s European hopes.
Australia international Viduka did his best to settle early Newcastle nerves by scoring in the sixth minute, but the home fans had to endure an anxious wait until Owen wrapped up the points seven minutes from time.
At Ewood Park, Roque Santa Cruz opened the scoring in the 12th minute before Marlon King pulled Wigan level five minutes later from the penalty spot with his first goal for the club after Christopher Samba was sent off for a foul on former England striker Emile Heskey.
Jason Roberts restored Rovers’s lead on the stroke of half-time and then Santa Cruz made it 3-1 after the hour.
Wigan were dealt a further blow when Honduran midfielder Wilson Palacios was sent off for a second bookable offence.
Andre Bikey was Reading’s hero, the Cameroon centre-back scoring twice with headers either side of Mauro Zarate’s equaliser.
At the Riverside, Tuncay Sanli’s 32nd-minute goal was all that separated Middlesbrough from Derby.
Tottenham and FA Cup semifinalists Portsmouth were heading for a goalless draw at White Hart Lane until Darren Bent came off the bench. The striker made it 1-0 in the 80th minute and then laid on the second for fellow substitute Jamie O’Hara moments later. — Sapa-AFP