Fulham’s Dimitar Berbatov back to his brilliant best against Newcastle
Fulham's Dimitar Berbatov was back to his brilliant best in a 2-1 victory over Newcastle on Monday night. Harry Kemble reports
On a freezing Monday night against an unrestrained Newcastle United defence, Dimitar Berbatov put in a performance that many neutral observers may have felt was beyond him.
From start to finish the oft-termed languid Bulgarian was there for his Fulham team-mates as they looked to end a run of seven games without a win.
Berbatov successfully completed almost as many passes as Newcastle forward duo Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse combined – 47-49.
Playing as a classic number 10, the 31-year-old striker would dip into midfield to link up with Steve Sidwell and Chris Baird to whom he made 11 passes and nine passes respectively.
Unsurprisingly his manager Martin Jol was keen to highlight the player’s performance, in case fans watching the game may have noted Berbatov’s leggings – the only player to wear the garments – and not paid due attention to his star.
“He was vital,” said the Whites boss. “Although he didn’t score and he covered more ground than ever before so he was probably a bit tired when we needed him to score goals.
“He is not moaning, he is not sulking so I am very satisfied. He is a good number 10”.
To his detriment, he missed a superb chance to put the game out of Newcastle’s reach immediately after Sidwell’s opener when he was clean through on Tim Krul’s goal.
But the former Manchester United man’s showing was about playing as a support striker, providing the supply line for Hugo Rodallega.
As Jol said, Berbatov was asked to perform a role for his team to turn around a dire run of results around. A period of form that would have been the Cottagers’ worst for two seasons had they not won last night.
Fulham have struggled to fill the pivotal position since the departure of Mousa Dembele and Clint Dempsey to Spurs in the summer.
Berbatov was not accustomed to this position at either of his two previous clubs, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United.
So it was surprising that Fulham’s top scorer of the season so far, with five goals, was asked to drop off Rodallega, who had only scored one before notching his second on Monday night.
But, nonetheless, it was an inspired decision by the Fulham coaching staff that is looking for a new strike partnership to cater for the absence of Bryan Ruiz who is out with a hamstring injury until the New Year.
Even Newcastle manager Alan Pardew, who has not seen his side win away since beating Chelsea last season, a run of 13 games, managed to praise Berbatov, even if he couldn’t resist a sly reference to his temperament.
“He was special tonight,’ he said. “Everything he seemed to pluck out of the sky seemed to die on his toe – he was a real problem.
“I thought we did much better in the second half with him but he is a class act when he is in the mood and when the TV cameras are here he is a real problem.”
Fulham fans will be hoping that come Saturday’s west London derby against QPR, it will be Harry Redknapp lamenting the languid Bulgarian.