NEWCASTLE United’s players were welcomed to Craven Cottage by carol singers – but the club’s fans didn’t leave the stadium filled with any festive cheer.
And it looks like being a long, hard winter on Tyneside.
Next up are Manchester City at St James’s Park – and it could get worse before it gets better for Alan Pardew and his beleaguered players.
With away games against Manchester United and Arsenal also on the horizon, Newcastle are in danger of getting dragged into a bleak Premier League relegation battle over the coming weeks and months.
Pardew’s side were, for the most part, out-classed, out-pressed and out-fought by Fulham on a bitterly cold night by the River Thames.
A stunning second-half goal from Hatem Ben Arfa – which cancelled out Steve Sidwell’s deflected 19th-minute opener – only briefly warmed up the club’s huge travelling support.
United were sloppy in possession all game, but it was ultimately defensive deficiencies which cost them, with Hugo Rodallega allowed to head a free-kick beyond Tim Krul for the winner.
And Newcastle’s seven-month search for a league win away from St James’s Park goes on.
The only problem is that the club’s next two destinations are Old Trafford and the Emirates Stadium.
Pardew – who celebrated his two-year anniversary at the club on Sunday – was given a welcome lift ahead of the game when Ben Arfa, Demba Ba, Cheik Tiote, David Santon and Jonas Gutierrez all proved their fitness.
All had missed Thursday night’s disappointing 2-0 Europa League defeat to Bordeaux.
Only centre-half Mike Williamson started that game, but the first-half performance was anything but fresh, despite the fresh legs.
And it looked like being a long night for Williamson and his defensive colleagues as Fulham took the game to Newcastle in the early stages, with Martin Jol’s side attacking with some neat and incisive football.
Danny Simpson did just enough in the second minute to put off Alexander Kacaniklic after he was played in by Sidwell. Rodellega also tried an acrobatic shot from a Damien Duff cross, but his effort flew over Tim Krul’s crossbar.
It was Duff who set up Sidwell’s opening goal. The former United winger got the better of Fabricio Coloccini and cut the ball back for Sidwell, whose shot cannoned off Williamson and over a helpless Krul.
It could have been worse after the restart, with Dimitar Berbatov seizing on a short Tiote pass for Coloccini before striding clear. Krul, however, was equal to his shot.
Little was seen of Newcastle, beaten 5-2 at Craven Cottage last season, as an attacking force, and Pardew soon switched to a 4-4-2 formation, having initially set his team up as 4-2-3-1.
Williamson cleared a Berbatov shot off the line in another Fulham move started by Tiote’s carelessness in possession.
Coloccini did force a goalline clearance from defender Sascha Riether at the half-hour mark with fierce header from a Vurnon Anita corner, and there were signs of life from Pardew’s team by the break.
Ba also forced a stop on the line from Riether in a late rally.
They’d been previously lifeless, and Pardew was relieved to get to the break with United only trailing by one goal.
It had been all too easy for Fulham at times, with Sidwell particularly influential in midfield.
Anita flashed a shot over Schwarzer’s goal after the restart, and Berbatov struck the side netting at the other end.
However, the moment of the game came in the 54th minute, when Ben Arfa took the ball 20 yards from goal from Anita.
A drop of the shoulder and a swing of his left foot later, it was in the net.
Ben Arfa skipped past Sidwell after spotting a yawning gap between Schwarzer and his left post and let rip, his shot going in off the underside of the bar after brushing John Arne Riise’s shin.
The lead, however, was shortlived, with Rodallega restoring Fulham’s advantage nine minutes later, the unmarked forward heading a Duff free-kick past Krul, who had earlier denied Sidwell with a fine save.
Shola Ameobi replaced a flagging Ben Arfa for the final 20 minutes, and Coloccini clipped the bar with a shot after the change.
Newcastle rallied, but there was no way back.
And the club is again anxiously looking over its shoulder at the teams below it in the table.
If Sunderland beat Reading tonight, the Magpies will be just two points off the bottom three.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Krul 7; Simpson 6, Williamson 5, Coloccini 6, Santon 6; Anita 6 (Marveaux, 86), Tiote 4 (Bigirimana, 87); Cisse 5, BEN ARFA 7 (Shola Ameobi, 71), Gutierrez 5; Ba 5. Subs not used: Harper; Tavernier, Perch, Ferguson.
FULHAM: Schwarzer; Riether, Hughes, Hangeland, Riise; Duff, Sidwell, Baird, Kacaniklic (Dejagah, 62); Berbatov, Rodallega (Petric, 87). Subs not used: Etheridge, Senderos, Karagounis, Richardson, Diarra.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Hatem Ben Arfa. His stunning goal lit up an otherwise-disappointing United performance.
HIGHLIGHT: Ben Arfa’s goal. It was created out of nothing.
LOWLIGHT: The sight of an unmarked Hugo Rodallega meeting Damien Duff’s free-kick for Fulham’s winner.
Goals: Sidwell 19, Ben Arfa 54, Rodallega 63
Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire)