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Ben Arfa's late cracker earns Newcastle a much-needed win
4:56pm Saturday 31st August 2013 in Sport
Final Score: Newcastle 1 Fulham 0
THE pre-match talk might have revolved around Yohan Cabaye, but it was another mercurial Frenchman who came up trumps as Newcastle claimed their first win of the season against Fulham.
While Cabaye was booed on to the field as a second-half substitute, Hatem Ben Arfa was able to soak up the acclaim of the St James' Park as his fantastic 87th-minute strike arrowed into the net to earn Newcastle a deserved win.
The Magpies dominated throughout, but it looked as though their goalless start to the season would continue after Papiss Cisse planted a second-half header against the crossbar.
However, Ben Arfa was not to be denied, and he added to his growing catalogue of brilliant goals to lift some of the pressure that was mounting ahead of Monday's transfer deadline.
The major pre-match talking point was the make up of the Newcastle substitutes' bench, with Cabaye and Loic Remy both named amongst the home side's replacements.
Cabaye refused to take part in Newcastle's opening two games of the season after the club rejected a £10m offer from Arsenal, but the Frenchman was compelled to feature in the squad for the first time this campaign.
Remy is Newcastle's only signing of the summer so far having joined on a season-long loan from QPR, and having recovered from a calf injury, the striker was involved in the Magpies' matchday squad for the first time.
Newcastle's starting line-up was the same as the side that kicked off against West Ham last weekend, and the first half followed much the same pattern as that game, with the hosts dominating possession but lacking a cutting edge.
Fabricio Coloccini met Sylvain Marveaux's fifth-minute corner with a powerful header, but the ball ricocheted off Cisse, who was standing on the edge of the six-yard box.
Newcastle didn't threaten again until the 22nd minute, with Mathieu Debuchy firing a rising drive straight into former Darlington goalkeeper David Stockdale's midriff.
Fulham, who won at Sunderland on the opening day of the season, offered little before the interval, although Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa had to be at his most alert to cut out Dimitar Berbatov's through ball for Darren Bent shortly before the half-hour mark.
Bryan Ruiz blazed over from long range shortly after, before Newcastle created the best opportunity of the game in the 32nd minute.
Ben Arfa floated a ball into Cisse's path, but while the striker controlled the ball on his chest and eased past Brede Hangeland, his powerful strike was saved by Stockdale.
Cisse was a lively presence all afternoon, and he guided a 42nd-minute header well wide of the target after pulling to the back post to meet Debuchy's right-wing cross.
Alan Pardew resisted the temptation to make changes at half-time, although Cabaye received a mixed reaction when he warmed up for the first time in the early stages of the second half.
On the field, Ben Arfa continued to be Newcastle's chief attacking weapon, and after drifting in from the right flank, the Frenchman saw a long-range effort deflected over the crossbar.
Moments later, Ben Arfa saw another deflected shot saved by Stockdale, before Cisse's drive was blocked by John-Arne Riise after Fulham failed to clear a corner.
Pardew's changes came in the 66th minute, with Cabaye and Yoan Gouffran entering the fray, and Cabaye received an extremely mixed reaction from the Newcastle supporters, with a smattering of cheers being drowned out by more pronounced boos.
The Frenchman's first act was to concede a free-kick close to the edge of his own area, and Tim Krul had to be at his most alert to keep out a fine curled effort from Ruiz.
Remy was also introduced for his Newcastle debut with 16 minutes left, and his first act was a decent surge down the left-hand side that forced a corner. Cabaye delivered it, and Gouffran beat his marker to produce a header that Stockdale plucked out of the air.
That was the cue for a frantic five-minute spell that saw Newcastle create their three best chances of the game in close succession.
The first saw Ben Arfa cross from the right, and Cisse planted a powerful header against the crossbar with Stockdale well beaten.
The Fulham goalkeeper did well moments later though, keeping out Ben Arfa's low effort at his front post as the French winger continued to cause havoc down the right.
Another dangerous delivery followed, but while Gouffran met Ben Arfa's cross on the edge of the six-yard box, he could only glance a header well wide of the target.
Ben Arfa had built up a head of steam though, and the Frenchman was not to be denied as he finally made the breakthrough with three minutes left.
Receiving a long crossfield ball on the right-hand side, he cut inside to ghost past two Fulham defenders before unleashing a fantastic curled effort that arced into the top left-hand corner of the net.
The goal came with just three minutes left, but Newcastle would have won by an even greater margin had Stockdale not produced a fantastic stoppage-time double save to deny both Debuchy and Cisse.
Newcastle (4-4-2): Krul; Debuchy, Coloccini, Yanga-Mbiwa, Santon; Ben Arfa, Anita (Cabaye 66), Sissoko, Marveaux (Remy 74); Shola Ameobi (Gouffran 66), Cisse.
Subs (not used): Elliot (gk), Dummett, Gosling, Sammy Ameobi.
Fulham (4-4-2): Stockdale; Reither (Briggs 73), Hangeland, Hughes, Riise; Kacaniklic, Sidwell (Rodallega 89), Parker, Ruiz; Berbatov, Bent (Taarabt 83).
Subs (not used): Etheridge (gk), Boateng, Karagounis, Duff.
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