Fulham 1 Sunderland 4 match report: Adam Johnson’s first hat-trick gives Black Cats a lift
Johnson was superb throughout as Gus Poyet's side overtake Crystal Palace to rise off the bottom of the league
An England recall for Adam Johnson is improbable, but no longer inconceivable after the right-winger's return to form in the week Theo Walcott was ruled out of the World Cup.
Having inspired Sunderland to a midweek Capital One Cup victory over Manchester United the 26-year-old followed up with a hat-trick against Fulham that enabled the Black Cats’ to climb off the bottom.
The first triple of Johnson’s career, and a goal by Ki Sung-Yueng supplied by Johnson, enabled Sunderland to see off the brief Fulham rally that followed Steve Sidwell’s goal. Victory brought Gus Poyet’s side within a point of safety, and two behind their vanquished opponents.
Poyet, who took over with Sunderland possessing a point from seven games after Paolo Di Canio’s barmy interlude, said: “I will look at the table every two minutes tonight. It has not been nice being bottom but we have lost one in 10 now so we are a bit better.”
Of Johnson who won 12 caps for England, but only one under Roy Hodgson in August 2012, he added: “He needs to play for a team that keeps the ball, that gives it to him in space to play. We tried him on the left, then on the right, then he was on the bench, but now the team is more solid and gives him the freedom to perform. I hope he plays for England at the World Cup because if he does it means we will have stayed up”
Poyet was aided by Brede Hangeland failing a fitness test, in his prolonged absence Fulham have the most porous defence in the divison conceding 46 goals. Fulham did warmly welcome back Clint Dempsey for his second home debut – very warmly given the Texan went on strike to force a move at the end of his first spell at the club. In Fulham’s predicament they cannot be too fussed about the identity of possible saviours but Dempsey looks well off Premier League pace at present.
In these matches the first goal is frequently critical and Fulham should have scored it. Mistakes by Wes Brown, then Jack Colback, gifted chances for Dimitar Berbatov and Adel Taarabt but neither could take them. “We dominated and should have been two up,” Rene Meulensteen, Fulham’s manager, said. “Then we give away a free-kick that leaves us with a mountain to climb.”
It was Johnson who won the kick after 29 minutes through Sidwell’s careless challenge. Stockdale got two hands to Johnson’s curler, but failed to keep it out. “It was saveable,” Meulensteen said. Johnson continued to run at opponents and four minutes before the break Riise clattered him on the touchline. Johnson pulled the free-kick back to Ki, whose shot was deflected past Stockdale by Philippe Senderos.
When Sidwell ran off Marcos Alonso to head Duff’s corner in soon after the break a revival threatened. With Sunderland fielding nine of the men who started against Manchester United , while nine of Fulham’s players had not begun a match since New Year’s Day, it seemed probable that the visitors would tire. Fulham struggled, however, to turn possession into chances and it was Sunderland who scored from a lightning counter-attack. Lee Cattermole won possession from Dempsey on the edge of the Sunderland area and the excellent Ki broke away. He fed Jozy Altidore and kept running to take the return before playing in Johnson behind Riise. The winger slid the ball between Stockdale’s legs.
Darren Bent came on, to jeers from Sunderland fans and silence from the home ones, but it was the visitors who concluded the scoring. Altidore dummied Senderos then took the opportunity to win a penalty presented by the defender’s clumsy thigh-high tackle. Johnson converted.
Sidwell should have scored a late consolation but somehow shot at Vito Mannone from two yards. As well as Ray Wilkins on the bench and Alan Curbishley in the directors box, Gianfranco Zola and Robbie Di Matteo were in the stands. With so many potential replacements in attendance it would be no surprise if Mulensteen had trouble sleeping soundly last night.
Fulham (4-2-3-1): Stockdale; Reither, Senderos, Amorebieta, Riise; Parker, Sidwell; Duff (Dejegah, 68), Taarabt (Kasami, 63), Dempsey (Bent, 79); Berbatov.
Sunderland (4-1-4-1): Mannone; Bardsley, O’Shea, Brown, Alonso; Cattermole; Johnson (Celusta, 86), Ki, Colbeck, Borini (Larsson, 75); Fletcher (Altidore, 66).
Referee: Mike Dean
Man of the match: Johnson (Sunderland)
Match rating: 7/10
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