Fulham 0-4 Newcastle United
A flotilla brought the black and white army to the banks of the river Thames, determined to overthrow a foe they had not defeated for more than a decade in their own back yard.
For Fulham, the match up offered an opportunity for their newly appointed Commander in Chief to get off to a winning start. Instead, his side sunk to new depths, as he watched his side lose by 4 goals without scoring for the first time this season.
Newcastle, on the other hand, filled their boots.
A first goal of the season for Shelvey within 10 minutes was followed just moments later by another for Perez, making him one of only four players to have scored 10 or more goals in the Premier League in 2019 (joining Mane, Vardy & Aguero).
Add a fourth goal of the season for the prolific Fabian Schar on the hour mark, and then another at the death from Man of the Match Rondon and the Magpies could sign off with their biggest win of the season.
And whilst all football fans should live in the moment, thoughts moved quickly to the futures of our manager and his players. Irrespective of the biggest question mark, that of Rafa Benitez contract, you’d be right in assuming that is the last time we will see several of those players wearing black and white stripes.
Hayden for one has made it clear he wants to move for family reasons. And you’d have to say he’s been a model pro this season in getting on with his job when many others in his position would have caused a stink.
For the likes of Diame (out of contract), Shelvey (likely to be surplus to requirements), Kenedy (end of loan) there also seems little likelihood of an extended stay.
Whilst, most worryingly perhaps, the noise from the Perez camp also seems indicate his days are numbered. Who’d have thought that news would be quite so devastating eh!
And then the big one. Will Rafa stay.
The longer it goes, the more worried we get. Today’s result yet another reminder that his skills as a manager are up there with the very best in this league as his side, built on a shoe string, demolished a team who spent NET £86m on players last season.
STARTING XI: Dubravka, Hayden (Fernandez, 69), Schar, Lascelles, Dummett (Kenedy 81), Ritchie, Diame, Shelvey, Atsu (Muto, 66), Perez, Rondon
The win will be a timely reminder to Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley who watched on form the stands, not that they should need it, of the job their manager is doing. As after some early action at both ends Newcastle took control.
A corner from a Newcastle left came straight to Shelvey on the opposite corner of the 18 yard box in what was obviously a training ground move. One touch to steady himself and then another sent an absolute rocket over Rico and back across goal into the top corner. An screamer!
That goal was timed at 9 minutes, and just 124 seconds later it was 2-0. This time an effort from Atsu was blocked allowing Perez to slot home for his 13th of the season, making him this season’s top scorer.
Fulham were seeing plenty of the ball, 2/3 of it in fact over the course of the game. But even with 18 shots (just shy of Newcastle’s 19 in 90 minutes) they lacked a cutting edge. Something that Mitro, a figure even Newcastle fans couldn’t seem to make up their minds whether to jeer or cheer during the game, hasn’t managed to fix for them.
At the other end Fulham look abject. And when Schar headed in from a Ritchie cross there was no real surprise.
The only thing left was for Rondon to get a goal that was, once more, thoroughly deserved. His dominant display up front again outlined his importance to the team as a whole and to those playing just behind him in particular. This time his finish was an easy one, slamming home from close range after the home side failed to clear yet another ball in the 91st minutes.
13th then in the end, and points tally of 45 being Rafa’s best in the Premier League with Newcastle. Let’s just hope he’s here to build on that once more next season.