Newcastle United-Fulham Preview
LONDON (SE) - Two teams in desperate need of a spark meet at Craven Cottage in Monday's marquee match when Fulham play host to Newcastle United.
The sides are separated by goal differential in the standings, with Fulham 13th and Newcastle 14th sporting identical 4-5-6 records. The Cottagers are out to end a seven-match winless run that has seen them claim only four points, and the Magpies recently broke a four-game skid of their own in league play with last Monday's 3-0 victory over Wigan, but they also had a dead rubber Europa League tie at Bordeaux on Thursday in which they fell 2-0.
Fulham, though, get a key component to their starting XI back with central defender Brede Hangeland returning following a three-match ban for a red card issued in a 3-1 home loss to Sunderland on Nov. 18.
"It's been a new and frustrating experience to be away from games for a few weeks so I can't wait to get back," the Norwegian told the team's official website. "We've gone too long since our last win and we need to get back on track as soon as possible and play the football that we know we're capable of doing."
The Cottagers had been resolute in the first two matches without Hangeland, giving up one goal and stealing a point at Chelsea with a scoreless draw, but they were on the wrong end of a 3-0 scoreline in a London derby match versus Tottenham as former striker Clint Dempsey left Craven Cottage a victor in his first match there following his contentious departure.
Martin Jol's team has gone 298 minutes without a goal, and Fulham have been outscored 15-9 during their winless spell. Bryan Ruiz will not play due to a hamstring injury, and Sacha Riether is doubtful after suffering a knock against Spurs.
One of four Premier League teams without a road win in league play, Newcastle's victory over Wigan marked both a season high in goals and just their second clean sheet. Demba Ba continued his torrid goal-scoring pace with a brace and is the joint-league leader with 10 goals.
"It was very good to win after these last weeks," Ba told his side's official website. "Now we just have to keep our heads down, keep working and keep doing what we've done tonight.
The Senegalese striker would do well to heed his words - he's gone four consecutive road matches in league play without a goal after consecutive two-goal efforts at Everton and Reading in September. Magpies manager Alan Pardew rested Ba, Cheick Tiote and Davide Santon from the Bordeaux match in order to help them be 100 percent healthy for this contest.
Newcastle, who have yet to win back-to-back matches this season, have taken the maximum points just seven times in 29 total trips to Craven Cottage.
The home team won both matches last season, and Fulham won the corresponding fixture last season in a 5-2 rout. The since-departed Dempsey had a hat trick while Danny Murphy and Bobby Zamora converted from the penalty spot.
Lee Mason, who was the referee for that match and issued all four of his yellow cards to Newcastle, will again take charge in this fixture.