Hughton looks on as Fulham flounder. Coincidence?

Fulham 0 Sunderland 0
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The Independent Football

As recent events have shown, few men are as unpredictable as club owners. Mohamed Al Fayed is far more popular at Fulham than Mike Ashley is at Newcastle but he is not known for his patience either, as several previous managers can testify. That will concern Mark Hughes after his team's winless run extended to 14 matches with this dire goalless draw. It may have been been a coincidence, but newly out-of-work Chris Hughton was watching.

Hughes has had less than six months to fashion his own side, but a team that reached the Uefa Cup final in May has declined alarmingly. The personnel are similar but confidence is low. The poor run dates from the ankle injury to Bobby Zamora in September, which is no coincidence. Fulham have not won since; only goal difference keeps them out of the relegation zone.

That goal difference (-4) in itself tells a tale. Fulham are rarely hammered, they just keep being edged out. With Zamora, some of their nine draws would have turned into wins.

This might well have been one of them. Steve Bruce admitted his Sunderland team played nowhere near their potential but Fulham could not put them away. Hughes tried three strikers and none looked like scoring.

"We just need a break," said Hughes. "We were anxious in the first half but in the second half we took the game to Sunderland and deserved to win it."

The first period was desperate. Clint Dempsey stretched Simon Mignolet with a dipping 25-yard yard shot on seven minutes, but the rest was huffing and puffing. Fulham were booed off at the break. One north-east reporter commented that it was the worst half he'd seen all season, adding "and I've seen a lot of Boro".

Hughes replaced Diomansy Kamara, who is quick but not too visionary, with Andrew Johnson. He worked the channels and held the ball up, giving Fulham a better shape. Half-chances were created but Phil Bardsley cleared Dickson Etuhu's header off the line and Mignolet denied Johnson at close range, and Zoltan Gera's shot was blocked.

Sunderland, who had David Meyler in for his first start since his cruciate ligament injury in May, should have won the game on the break but Darren Bent over-hit his pass to Asamoah Gyan. "I'm delighted with a point but it was one of them games where we all could have gone Christmas shopping," said Bruce. Sadly, he was right.

Substitutes: Fulham: Baird for Salcido (71),E Johnson for Etuhu (72), A Johnson for Kamara (h-t). Sunderland: Al-Muhammadi for Ferdinand (10), Gyan for Meyler (53), Zenden for Welbeck (78).

Bookings: Sunderland: Richardson.

Attendance: 24,462

Referee: Neil Swarbrick

Man of the match: Swarbrick (I'm not joking!)