Match Report: Relief for Martin O'Neill as Sunderland finally find scoring boots against Fulham

Fulham 1 Sunderland 3

Craven Cottage

This was just what Sunderland had been waiting for. For the first time this season, their talented attackers all played well in combination. For the first time since he arrived, Adam Johnson showed why he is an England international. And for the first time since 4 February, Sunderland won an away league game.

When Johnson and Steven Fletcher were bought in the summer there was hope on Wearside of a new birth of attacking football. Although Fletcher started with five goals in his first four league games, he had received little support from his team-mates, Johnson included. Before yesterday, Sunderland had looked like a team struggling to find their voice, with one win and seven goals from their first 10 league games.

But yesterday, in the second half, Sunderland finally looked like the side they were meant to be, scoring three goals within 20 minutes to win the game. Fletcher, Johnson and Stephane Sessegnon combined and attacked with the imagination and precision Sunderland have lacked all season. It was almost a surprise watching them that it had taken that long.

Despite a poor first half, the only incident of which was Brede Hangeland being sent off for a two-footed tackle on Lee Cattermole, the visitors were far better after the break. Five minutes after the restart, Johnson produced his single finest moment of quality in a Sunderland shirt so far. Breaking after a Fulham corner, Johnson had the ball near the half-way line on the left and bent a wonderful diagonal pass around the back of Philippe Senderos and into the path of Fletcher, who scored. Sunderland had been waiting all season for those two to combine so effectively.

Johnson, finally playing with confidence, tried a subtle chip to Sessegnon which nearly came off before curling a left-footed shot towards the bottom corner, inducing a desperate save from Mark Schwarzer. Damien Duff equalised before Johnson returned Sunderland to the lead, perfectly finding Carlos Cuellar’s forehead from a corner.

With an advantage of numbers and goals, Sunderland continued to push for a third. It came with 20 minutes left when Fletcher broke down the left and found Sessegnon, who spun inside and shot into the far top corner. It was the quality he had seemed to have misplaced over the summer. “Sessegnon has been searching for that confidence all season,” Martin O’Neill said afterwards. “He can strike the ball. You wouldn’t have thought that from the first six of seven games of the season but he’s taking it onto the pitch now.”

Fulham’s ten tired men could not cope with Sunderland’s pace but they performed admirably throughout. They could never quite find a rhythm, losing Alexander Kacanikilic to injury before Hangeland was sent off. It was not a malicious tackle but with two feet off the ground Hangeland could have no complaints.

To their credit, Fulham continued to attack and when Bryan Ruiz limped off Martin Jol threw on striker Mladen Petric, even with Hugo Rodallega and Dimitar Berbatov already on the pitch. Petric nearly scored with his first touch but shot over. He only had to wait a few minutes before scoring the equaliser, sweeping in Damien Duff’s cross after Duff had exchanged passes with Rodallega.

Petric continued to lead the charge and nearly made it 3-2, dancing inside Cuellar before shooting at Simon Mignolet. Hughes also tested the goalkeeper but Sunderland were too firm in defence.

“We became a bit sloppy, maybe because we hadn't won for some time,” explained a delighted but relieved O’Neill afterwards, “but we ended up with the win. It was just what we needed.”

Fulham (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer 7; Riether, Hughes 5, Hangeland 3, Riise 6; Sidwell 6, Karagounis 5 (Senderos, 35, 4); Duff 6, Ruiz 5 (Petric, 60, 7), Kacanikilic 5 (Rodallega, 28, 6); Berbatov 6

Sunderland (4-4-1-1): Mignolet 8; Bardsley 6, O’Shea 7, Cuellar 6, Rose 6; Larsson 6  (McClean, 70), Cattermole 7, Colback 6 (Vaughan, 79), Johnson 8; Sessegnon 7; Fletcher 8

Man of the Match: Johnson (Sunderland)

Match Rating: 6

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral