Four years ago last week, Fulham Football Club achieved a result that fans can only dream of now. The Cottagers thrashed high flying Newcastle United 5-2 on a cold January afternoon in 2012, making history in the process. Star attacker Clint Dempsey notched a hat trick, the first American to do so in the Premier League. As Fulham languish in the wrong half of the Championship, a look back at that glorious afternoon paints a picture of what this proud club once was.
Newcastle United had been on a great run of form that season, and had even cracked the top four in the opening months. The Magpies were coming off a resounding 3-0 win over Manchester United in early January and were sitting in sixth. When Newcastle made the long trip south to the Cottage, Fulham knew they were in for a tough match. The Londoners had also achieved some impressive results in the preceding weeks, defeating Arsenal at home and demolishing Charlton in the FA Cup. The Whites would go on to finish 9th in one of the best seasons in recent memory.
The Fulham starting line-up that day was miles away from the poor quality we currently see at the Cottage. The attack consisted of Bobby Zamora, Damien Duff, Bryan Ruiz, and Clint Dempsey. The defence was solidly led by Brede Hangeland, while Danny Murphy marshalled the midfield with terrific experience.
However, the first half was absolutely abysmal. Fulham played with little pace, intensity, or passion and Newcastle looked all too comfortable playing around the Whites. A major turning point occurred on 37 minutes, when holding midfielder Steve Sidwell went down injured and was replaced by striker Andy Johnson in a bold attacking move by Martin Jol. Newcastle deservedly bagged the opening goal right before halftime, with midfielder Danny Guthrie ripping home a long range effort.
As the Cottagers trudged off at half-time, boos rained down on them from the Fulham faithful. It was looking like a disappointing day on the banks of the Thames. However, during half-time, Jol made a substitution that will go down in history. Out came the glitz and creativity of multimillion pound signing Bryan Ruiz. In came the grit and work ethic of full back Chris Baird, slotted into the centre of midfield. And against all odds, the substitution worked wonders.
Fulham came out of the dressing room with a renewed purpose and quickly stamped their authority on the match. In the 52nd minute, winger Damien Duff strode into the penalty area and drew a penalty. Danny Murphy calmly strode up and slotted home to even the score. The match was back on.
Indeed, the floodgates had opened. The Fulham team was steadied by the presence of Baird in midfield, and it allowed the attackers to play with increased freedom. Seven minutes later, a furious counter-attack led by the influential Johnson resulted in Fulham’s second. Zamora’s strike was parried by Krul directly into the path of Dempsey, who instinctively turned home from close range with his thigh. It was a true poacher’s goal, and exemplified the type of season Dempsey was having. Everything he touched turned to goals that year, racing to the position of fan favourite amongst the supporters at The Cottage.
Up 2-1, Fulham poured attack upon attack on the Newcastle back-line. The third goal was the same combination, with Zamora releasing Dempsey through on goal, and the American fired home with a low shot into the bottom left hand corner. Next it was Zamora’s turn to get in on the goals. Johnson drew yet another penalty, and Zamora smashed it straight down the middle to give the Whites a three goal cushion.
Hatem Ben Arfa grabbed a consolation goal for Newcastle, but Dempsey finished off the perfect day for Fulham by completing his hat trick in some style. Murphy scooped a lovely through ball to the American and he did well to head the ball into his path and slide the ball in the back of the net to make it 5-2. The Whites were rampant, led by the unstoppable Clint Dempsey.
As Fulham fans take a moment and reminisce about that brilliant day at the Cottage four years ago, they will remember what this club used to be. Fulham used to be a tough place to go, and Craven Cottage was a fortress that the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United, and Chelsea all feared to visit. Fulham boasted some of the best attacking talent in the league with Dempsey, Zamora, Johnson, and Duff. And with the ageless Danny Murphy pulling the strings in midfield, Fulham were a side no one looked forward to playing.
Yet nowadays, Fulham is a shadow of its former self. Mired in the bottom half of English football’s second tier, victories such as the one Fulham achieved four years ago look further away than ever. Something must be done to take this historic football club back to where it belongs – firmly established in the top flight. For now however, all one can do is remember the good old days, and few matches were better than Fulham 5-2 Newcastle.
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