Newcastle v Fulham, Premier League, May 16, 2009
Going into the penultimate weekend of the Premier League, this match looks one of the most intriguing on paper as it pits two sides with much to play for.
Newcastle will be buoyed by their win over Middlesbrough earlier this week and could take a major step to securing their status in the Promised Land with a win in front of their relegation haunted fans. Whilst Fulham are currently holders of seventh spot which ensures participation in the Europa League next season.
Since the Toonâ€™s win over Boro on Monday, there have been cautious words from the Newcastle camp. Alan Shearer said after the game â€œthere is still a long way to goâ€ and midfielder Danny Guthrie backed this up, claiming â€œwe probably need to win again.â€
Such was their dire form prior to the win over their north-east rivals that the 3-1 win should have imbued the squad with the confidence to stay up, especially as their main relegation rivals, Hull, are unlikely to claim even a point from an away match at Bolton followed by a home game against Manchester United.
Shearer will be desperate for another win and the Toon army will be baying for blood now there is a chink of light at the end of the tunnel. The defence still looked a little shaky in the game against Middlesbrough so the midfield battlers, Nicky Butt, Kevin Nolan and Guthrie will have to play a high-octane game and if Mark Viduka can produce the form he did against his old club, the Fulham defence will have their hands full.
In the lead up to the match we will no doubt hear reports of Shearerâ€™s dilemma over whether to play his old pal Michael Owen. There is no doubt Newcastle looked much more threatening when the former Liverpool and Real Madrid striker was substituted but Obafemi Martinsâ€™ groin injury is likely to see him start from the bench and perhaps make an impact late on.
Owen may have looked pathetic in recent weeks (no goals in 11 games) and the pundits have been queuing up to question whether he loves the horses more than football and some have even pondered whether he is the â€œtype of strikerâ€ who can play in the modern game.
Nevertheless, one of the greatest goal scorers England has ever produced will surely have a say in Newcastleâ€™s relegation battle and he will be looking for a repeat of the corresponding fixture last season when he scored the second in a 2-0 win. (Owen is 11/2 to score the first goal, 6-4 to score at any time and 66/1 to claim a hat-trick.)
Fulham come into this game in a rich vein of form. The Cottagers have impressed in the last eight games, claiming five wins including the scalp of Manchester United and their first away wins of the season.
Roy Hodgson has furthered his reputation this season as Fulham have been one of the best football playing sides in the league and he has coped admirably with losing key players such as Jimmy Bullard in January and Simon Davies to injury in mid-April.
Goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer alongside Brede Hangeland and Clint Dempsey have been among the unsung players in the Premier League and could all be the subject of transfer speculation this summer. Other players such as Dickson Etuhu and Diomansky Kamara have come in later on in the season and fitted in with the team ethic.
Kamara was excellent last week, scoring a brace against Villa and the Newcastle management team are no doubt working out how to nullify Danny Murphy, who has been the key to Fulhamâ€™s short passing game in 2008/2009. (Kamara is 25/1 to score two or more, Murphy is 5/1 to score at any time.)
The key may well be how much Fulham want this, there is little doubt that they may struggle to perform well in Europe and in the league next season and they wonâ€™t have the same desire as the home side. Newcastle though did not look so secure defensively against Boro and there will be opportunities for the Cottagers to turn the relegation battle on its head once again.
101gg predicts: Newcastle 2 â€“ Fulham 1 (15/2)
Full match odds here.