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

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor