The spotlight, understandably, was on hat-trick hero Adam Johnson, but the quiet influence Ki Sung-Yueng had on Sunderland’s biggest win of the season should not be underestimated. The South Korean scored one and made one as Sunderland lifted themselves off the bottom for only the first time in five weeks.
The 24-year-old, on loan from Swansea, could have been recalled earlier this week but, to Gus Poyet’s relief, Michael Laudrup decided against it. “It was a difficult day for me, waiting for the phone to ring, but they didn’t [call]," said Poyet who is looking into making the move permanent. “I can see he is enjoying his football, and making a difference, so it is possible. He’s been excellent, our most consistent player."
Sunderland have not put four goals past Premier League opposition since the heady days of Martin O’Neill’s first few weeks in charge on Wearside. That was two years ago and owner Ellis Short has fired O’Neill and Paolo Di Canio since. In Poyet he may finally have made the right choice.
The Uruguayan inherited a Sunderland team that had one point from seven matches and were thrashed at Swansea in the first under his command. “We were 1-0 down, then ‘boom’, we collapse completely," he recalled, adding: “but then we get better, slowly you could see we were better. We needed a full 90 minutes, that happened today."
Since that drubbing in Wales Sunderland have taken 16 points from 13 games. If that form is maintained to the end of the season they will get 38 points, which might just be enough.
Poyet said: “With John O’Shea and Wes Brown at the back, we look more solid, and with Jonno as he was today, and Ki, if we can keep them all fit we have the basis for a good end to the season."
There is an element of fortune when it comes to fitness, as Fulham, desperately missing Brede Hangeland (who should be back in the FA Cup against Norwich on Tuesday) and Marten Steklenberg (who should play at Arsenal on Saturday), can testify. The form of Adam ‘Jonno’ Johnson has also been capricious over the years, but if Poyet has found the key to his being consistent it will be significant for Sunderland and, maybe, England.
“He needs the team to play that type of football to give him the ball in a good position," said Poyet. “He needs the ball and needs the chance to attack the full-backs." He is, added the manager, of an age (26) where there are no excuses: old enough to know the game, yet still with the energy of youth.
Johnson will need to show he has maturity off the field too if Hodgson is to take him to the World Cup for his role is likely be that of impact substitute, which can be a frustrating one. Johnson, capped once by the current manager, 17 months ago, has not given up hope.
“If you have been involved with England it's always in the back of your mind," he said. "I felt the door was closed as each week went on, but hopefully I can keep playing like this and I might make a late shout for the plane. Stranger things have happened."
He added: "You don't turn into a bad player overnight. I said to myself, 'this is a new year, everything else has gone, do my best'. Everything seems to have worked out for me. I might make a late shout for the plane.
"I have known Theo for years, he is a good friend of mine. I have come through the U19s and U21s with him. I was gutted for him. But if you can gain off someone else's misfortune, you have got to try and take it. But I won't be the only one who is thinking that. There are probably four or five good wingers who won't make the plane."
Looking back on the game Johnson added: “These days don’t come along too often, unless you’re Messi or Ronaldo."
For Fulham they are coming along rather too often. They have conceded 39 goals in 14 games, including the infamous six at Hull and a quintet of fours. Rene Mulensteen talks a good game but Fulham have taken nine points from eight games under him and have a tough run coming up.
“A lot of people will see the scoreline and think ‘what’s happened there?’" he said, before arguing Fulham had controlled the opening stages and should have led. They did create chances, but any team with Steve Sidwell as leading scorer in January has problems.
Darren Bent was once a prolific finisher but there is no place for him in a geriatric team over-reliant on Sidwell and Scott Parker. Sidwell scored Fulham’s goal but conceded the free-kick from which Johnson put Sunderland ahead. Another free-kick won and taken by Johnson led to Ki scoring the second before Johnson completed the scoring from a counter-attack and a penalty. Johnson grabbed the match-ball while Fulham grasped at straws.
Fulham (4-2-3-1): Stockdale; Reither, Senderos, Amorebieta, Riise; Parker, Sidwell; Duff, Taarabt, Dempsey; Berbatov.
Substitutes: Kasami (for Taarabt, 63), Dejagah (for Duff, 68), Bent (for Dempsey, 79)
Sunderland (4-1-4-1): Mannone; Bardsley, O'Shea, Brown, Alonso; Cattermole; Johnson, Ki, Colbeck, Borini; Fletcher.
Substitutes: Altidore (for Fletcher, 66), Larsson (for Borini, 75), Celusta (for Johnson, 86).
Referee: M Dean.
Booked: Fulham: Sidwell, Riise, Parker. Sunderland: Bardsley, Colback, Johnson.
Man of the match: Johnson
Match rating: 7