London (AFP) – Matt Smith’s header made a mockery of Newcastle United’s status as favourites to go straight back up to the Premier League as Fulham ran out 1-0 winners in their Championship season opener on Friday.
Rafael Benitez’s side could point to not being given what looked like a penalty for handball against Ryan Tunnicliffe in the first half but his team, which has seen £45 million ($58.9m, 53m euros) of new talent brought in, rarely looked like taking the three points.
Indeed it was the hosts, who finished 20th in the Championship last term and lost leading strikers Ross McCormack and Moussa Dembele in the close season, who played the most fluent football.
“We didn’t play to the level we wanted to play,” admitted a disappointed Benitez.
“We didn’t take our chances and even if it was a decent shout for a penalty we should have got over that and got on with trying to play to our level.”
His young skipper, 22-year-old Jamaal Lascelles, accepted he and his team-mates had been taken by surprise.
“This is definitely a wake-up call as to how hard it is going to be to return to the Premier League,” he said.
Smith, who Fulham signed from Leeds United two years ago, said he and his team-mates had not listened to those who said they had no chance.
“Absolutely great to score my landmark goal with a header like that,” said Smith, who scored his 50th professional goal.
“We didn’t really pay much attenton to the hype surrounding Newcastle and that they had to just turn up to win.
“We simply believed in ourselves,” added the 27-year-old.
Smith headed home unmarked close to half-time to give Benitez plenty to say to his players at the break.
They came out a bit more energised but it was Fulham who could have gone further ahead if the referee Simon Hooper had looked more kindly on Sone Aluko being bundled over in the box by another of Benitez’s new signings, Grant Hanley.
Matt Ritchie had Newcastle’s best chance with a shot that was well saved by David Button, who then got down well later in the second half to deny the same player.
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