Steve Bruce joked that Stephane Sessegnon had been put on a "stretching machine" in an attempt to provide Sunderland's stand-in forward with a few more inches in height, but it was the equally diminutive figure of Simon Davies who helped to put Sunderland on the rack. In short, Fulham were head and shoulders above their hosts, for whom the season can't end soon enough.
Two goals in the space of 12 second-half minutes from the Welsh midfielder, who stands 5ft 8in, paved the way for a first victory away for four months to aid the London club's push for a top-10 finish, which also happens to be the stated aim on Wearside.
With four points from the last 33, it appears to be an increasingly futile pursuit, hardly the kind of return Ellis Short, the club's billionaire owner, is looking for, having spent £55m during Bruce's two-year tenure. "The disappointing thing for me is that we didn't take the chances we created," admitted Bruce. "The way we defended and the goals we gave away were horrific."
With 41 points, Sunderland still aren't mathematically safe, being only six points clear of danger with three games left, and Bruce conceded: "We can't assume anything." They paid for costly first-half misses. Steed Malbranque pulled a shot across goal, and Lee Cattermole fired tamely at Mark Schwarzer as Gael Kakuta's first goal in English football somewhat flattered Fulham going into the break.
Fine work down the right by Bobby Zamora allowed Eidur Gudjohnsen to find Kakuta who scuffed home from half a dozen yards.
Zamora fed Steve Sidwell down Fulham's right just after the hour, the midfielder providing a perfect cut-back for Davies, arriving into the area unmarked, to score with a crisp first-time finish.
Victory was sealed when Davies bundled home the third goal from Zamora's inviting low cross, Mark Hughes' side coping admirably without the hamstrung Clint Dempsey and Brede Hangeland, who was ill. The margin of victory would have been more had not Zamora, sliding in at the far post, not narrowly failed to apply a finish to Gudjohnsen's cross-shot.
"We improved in the second half to take the game away from them," the Fulham manager said. "I wasn't too enamoured with the way we played before the break, but once the second goal went in, we never looked like losing."
Sunderland ended the contest with defender Nedum Onuoha as a make-shift forward, the latest square peg in the round hole that has been a lack of attacking options since the departure of Darren Bent and injuries to the remaining forwards. Chairman Niall Quinn has promised further funds to address the issue, but at this rate it could be time for him to dust off his boots and come out of retirement. At least with the gangling Irishman, Bruce wouldn't need to resort to the rack.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Man of the match: Davies
Match rating: 5/10Reuse content