Newcastle’s bid for Premier League safety encounters a tricky test against in-form Fulham at St James’ Park on Sunday.
Alan Pardew’s side have endured a torrid campaign after surpassing expectations with a fifth-placed finish last term.
They hover precariously above the relegation zone, just three points clear of 18th place, and encounter a Fulham side that are undefeated in their past five Premier League games.
Fulham’s streak draws a sharp parallel with the form of Newcastle, who have suffered three straight defeats, including a 3-1 reverse at Benfica in the first leg of their midweek Europa League quarter-final.
Key to stopping Fulham’s rise in the standings will be Newcastle’s ability to nullify the potent Dimitar Berbatov, who has been a revelation since arriving to Craven Cottage in the close season.
The Bulgarian has put in a consistent campaign since departing Manchester United, netting 13 times this season, including last week’s brace in a 3-2 defeat of Queens Park Rangers.
He is primed to feast on a leaky Newcastle defence that has shipped 56 goals in the league this term, better only than relegation-placed Aston Villa and QPR.
Pardew’s men will at least be buoyed by a favourable run-in that will see them avoid facing any of the sides currently sitting in the top four.
The Tyneside club’s trickiest tests are likely to come at home to Liverpool and a final-day battle with Arsenal, again in front of the St James’ faithful.
Yet they will be expecting three points from upcoming clashes with fellow relegation candidates Sunderland and QPR.
Newcastle will nonetheless be eager to skip clear of danger this weekend with victory over Martin Jol’s men, but they will need to overcome a lacklustre record against the London club in order to do so.
After four defeats from the past seven meetings between the sides, including a 2-1 loss in this season’s reverse fixture, Newcastle will have to defy history – and form – to turn the tables.
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