Miles Starforth's analysis: Newcastle had guts but no guile as poor home form continues

No shots on target. Not one. That was a damning statistic given that Newcastle United were facing the team with the Premier League's worst defensive record.

Monday, 24th December 2018, 8:13 am
Updated Tuesday, 8th January 2019, 4:04 pm
Newcastle United's Javier Manquillo (left) and Fulham's Joe Bryan battle for the ball during the Premier League match at St James' Park, Newcastle. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday December 22, 2018. See PA story SOCCER Newcastle. Photo credit should read: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.

Fulham hadn’t kept a clean sheet before they arrived at St James’s Park on Saturday.

Yet they were comfortable, very comfortable at times.

Try as they might, they couldn’t unpick Claudio Ranieri’s organised team.

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There were boos at the end of the game, though that was hard on the players. They had given just about everything they had, but it just wasn’t good enough.

They had guts, but where was the guile?

Benitez was frustrated, but not at his players.

It could have been worse. Fulham had chances to score a late goal – Jamaal Lacelles blocked one shot from Aleksandar Mitrovic with his arm and made a last-ditch tackle to deny Aboubakar Kamara – and the game ended goalless.

Benitez sounded downbeat, though he insisted he was not down, after the game.

“I’m not happy with a point, but I m happy we didn’t lose and we have four points from last two games,” said United’s manager in his main press conference.

“I want to win every game, but if we can’t win, then we make sure we don’t lose.

“The fans know it doesn’t mean we’re not trying our best every single game. In the circumstances here, we’re doing well.

“We have to realise we will be in the bottom half of the table during the whole season, and if we go higher it will be another miracle.”

Speaking to written journalists, Benitez went even further, saying it would be a “miracle” if the club stayed up.

Benitez – who had to sell to buy in the summer – again referenced the huge sums spent by other teams.

Fulham spent more than £100million – including £22million on Aleksandar Mitrovic – after winning promotion from the Championship last season.

Benitez’s remarks seemed pointed given that the January transfer window is just days away from opening.

So far, Benitez has been diplomatic when asked about the window.

It’s been about finding the “right players”. Very soon it will be about finding the right money for the right players.

Sources close to owner Mike Ashley have suggested that there will be money for Benitez to spend. But how much money?

Will Ashley be even more reluctant to invest in the squad given that he hopes to sell the club this season?

Certainly, the value of his investment will plummet if the club drops out of the Premier League.

Newcastle’s home form has been dreadful. The club has lost seven of its 10 home games this season. That’s nowhere near good enough.

Chances were few and far between against Fulham, who retreated deeper and deeper after the break.

Winger Kenedy, left out of the starting XI, had a strong penalty appeal waved away after coming off the bench, having seemingly been pulled down in the box.

Defender Fabian Schar also headed over, while Fulham appealed for a spot kick when Mitrovic’s shot struck Lascelles’ arm.

The game, not surprisingly, was last on Match of the Day running order.

Pundit and former United striker Alan Shearer , typically, was blunt on Twitter.

Shearer tweeted: “It was that bad it’s lucky to be last!”

It could get worse before it gets better.

Newcastle take on Premier League leaders Liverpool at Anfield on Boxing Day, and a game against Watford at Vicarage Road on December 29 is followed by a home game against Manchester United on January 2.

It’s hard to see United taking too many points from the rest of the club’s festive programme – and it may not be a happy New Year at St James’s Park.