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

Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
football
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Sport
Andros Townsend is challenged by Vladimir Volkov
football
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
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

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week