ALAN Pardew will scour the football scrapheap as he wrestles with a striking crisis at Newcastle United, writes Miles Starforth.
Pardew, having seen leading scorer Andy Carroll sold on transfer deadline day, lost Shola Ameobi to a suspected fractured cheekbone at Craven Cottage last night.
And that has just left Pardew with three strikers – Leon Best, Peter Lovenkrands and Nile Ranger.
While there will be few, if any, names of genuine interest to Pardew in the list of out of contract players, Newcastle’s manager has no other choice but to examine it.
Former Middlesbrough striker Jeremie Aliadiere is among those seeking a new club. And asked about bringing in an out-of-contract player, Pardew said: “It’s a possibility.
“We have to explore every avenue – the situation is we are short on bodies.”
Newcastle, at least, have influential midfielder Cheik Tiote back from suspension for Saturday’s game against Arsenal, while Pardew is hopeful of welcoming back a clutch of other players over the coming weeks.
Loan signing Stephen Ireland, however, is at least two weeks away from his debut, while Hatem Ben Arfa and Dan Gosling are unlikely to be back until next month.
“We’ve got Ryan Taylor coming back soon, and I’m looking forward to having Cheik back in the team on Saturday,” said Pardew. “And that will be a big boost for everybody.”
Ameobi was today having his cheekbone assessed, with Pardew reluctant to put a timescale on his return.
Pardew went on: “It’s a massive blow. He’s going to be crucial, because we have already lost Andy Carroll. To lose him has put extra pressure on us all. The doctor thinks it might be the fracture of the cheekbone, and it’s going to keep him out for some time.”
Ameobi’s injury came just ten minutes into last night’s game.
The sight of him walking towards the tunnel at Craven Cottage was a sobering one for the Newcastle fans massed in the Putney End. However, an already bad night was to get worse.
And the sight of Damien Duff slipping the ball past Steve Harper midway through the second half was as unwelcome as that of Ameobi lying on the turf after being inadvertantly caught by an elbow from Steve Sidwell.
A couple of weeks ago Newcastle’s supporters were daring to dream of Europe.
Now they’ve been woken up, and survival, as it was at the start of the season, is all they’re hoping for, the nightmare of relegation having again come to the fore in the wake of Carroll’s sale to Liverpool.
Pardew’s players battled hard all over the pitch, but clearly, the events of transfer deadline day have had an impact on morale, and understandably so.
Newcastle, it seemed, were moving in the right direction, with Joey Barton set to follow the likes of Carroll and Steven Taylor in committing himself to the club beyond next season.
However, United’s fans, as they filed out of Craven Cottage, won’t have been looking to the long-term. Instead, they’ll have been more concerned with the short-term, and more precisely how the club can get through the next 14 games.
Of course, on another night Newcastle might well have taken a point, having largely defended well against Mark Hughes’s side, only for one lapse to cost them.
That the lapse was punished by Duff added insult to injury for many, but arguably the most significant factor in the winger’s lack of form during his time at St James’s Park was injury, not a lack of commitment.
Maybe most Newcastle fans accepted that, as the boos which greeted his first touches were half-hearted.
And having missed a sitter early in the second half, there was no way Duff was going to pass up the opportunity which came his way after Danny Murphy played him in with a delightful lofted ball in the 67th minute.
Fulham: Schwarzer, Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Baird, Dempsey, Sidwell, Murphy (Gera 87), Duff (Davies 87), Andrew Johnson (Kakuta 71), Dembele. Subs Not Used: Stockdale, Salcido, Kamara, Greening. Goals: Duff 67.
Newcastle: Harper, Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini, Jose Enrique, Barton, Nolan, Guthrie, Gutierrez, Best (Lovenkrands 72), Ameobi (Ranger 13). Subs Not Used: Krul, Campbell, Perch, Ferguson, Richardson. Booked: Simpson, Guthrie, Nolan.
Att: 25,620 Ref: Mike Jones (Cheshire).