Newcastle United 0 Fulham 0: First clean sheet boosts Ranieri
A dreadful 0-0 Premier League draw between Newcastle United and Fulham gave Claudio Ranieri's bottom-of-the-table side their first clean sheet of the season.
Saturday's match at St James' Park saw neither side create a clear goalscoring opportunity, with the defensive improvement for Fulham one positive to emerge, after they failed to shut out an opponent over the first 17 games of the campaign.
Newcastle continue to struggle at home and in general in front of goal, but do at least extend their advantage over the bottom three to five points after Burnley's defeat at Arsenal.
Against his former club, Aleksandar Mitrovic had an early shot saved by Martin Dubravka, before a Jamaal Lascelles header bounced off the striker at the other end and was hacked away from the line by Denis Odoi.
Dubravka gathered Jean Michael Seri's free-kick towards the end of a drab first half where neither side created a clear chance to score.
Mitrovic sent a poor finish straight at Dubravka just after the restart, while Salomon Rondon had a penalty claim turned down after being bundled over by Alfie Mawson.
The first substitution did not come until Rafael Benitez introduced Kenedy with 18 minutes remaining, and the wing-back had another home penalty appeal denied after tussling with Joe Bryan.
Fabian Schar then sent a header just over, but Fulham came closest to a late winner as Mitrovic, fed by Aboubakar Kamara, had an effort dramatically blocked by a sliding Lascelles, the visitors' claims for handball ignored at the end of a second period that saw neither keeper troubled.
FULL-TIME Newcastle 0-0 Fulham
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 22, 2018
What does it mean? A result for Fulham to build on
While they offered little going forward in this game, Fulham have at least shown earlier in the season that they can be a threat in attack.
It is their defensive woes that have cost them up to now, and a first clean sheet will come as a huge boost to Ranieri ahead of the busy festive schedule.
Newcastle are the second-lowest scorers in the league with 14 from 18 games, and have only won two of their 10 home games in the top flight. They are both issues Benitez must address with the help of some much-needed January additions after a game that saw them fail to register an attempt on target.
Fulham back three delivers
Mawson, Odoi and Tim Ream combined to make 20 clearances as they adequately dealt with what was often a direct Newcastle approach, reaching an important defensive milestone in the process. Mawson particularly deserves credit, having battled on to complete the game despite being on the receiving end of an inadvertent punch to the face from his own goalkeeper Sergio Rico in the first half.
Poor Perez must do more
Ayoze Perez feels it is unfair that he receives criticism from the Newcastle support, but it is hard to argue his case after this game. Despite playing the full 90 minutes, he failed to register a shot on goal or create a single chance for his team-mates.
Newcastle have an attractive-looking festive fixture away to league leaders Liverpool on December 26, the same day as Fulham host Wolves.