The new dawn belonged to a player from Fulham who only started because Bryan Ruiz was tired. Martin Jol acted on a hunch. Sometimes science finds football impenetrable. That was the case yesterday. Sunderland had five new players in their starting eleven. They have signed 10 during the summer. There has been a revolution at the Stadium of Light; recruitment, standards, training and diet have all changed and everywhere you looked the dawn of a new era was heralded.
"Emotionally gruelling," was how Ellis Short, the Sunderland owner, summarised last season. There has been a desire to step away from that - Sunderland's average Premier League finishing position since promotion in 2007, is 14th - from all quarters inside the football club.
Sunderland however, have forgotten how to win at the Stadium of Light. They have done that just once since January. In the 52nd minute, in the pivotal moment of this game, the Swiss central defender Valentin Roberge switched off, drawing criticism from his manager, when Damien Duff sent over a right wing corner. Roberge could get nowhere near Pajtim Kasami and the 21-year-old powered his header past Keiren Westwood. From there he ran into the arms of Martin Jol. "Patjim did not play for almost a year," said Jol. "For a young kid to score his first goal, a winning goal in the Premier League is what I want from him, to be happy and to enjoy his football and to develop himself. Bryan is jet-lagged so I started with him. I was pleased with the result but we have to do better, although we worked really hard and defended well. It is almost perfect to have three points."
Only injury to goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg clouded his day. He could be out for two weeks. That injury came saving at the feet of Jozy Altidore, damaging his shoulder as he did so. Stekelnburg also excelled int he first half to tip over a rising drive from Ondrej Celustra. Sunderland had 20 shots on target but it would be misleading to suggest Fulham were particularly rattled. Only three were on target.
"One corner kick can cost you," said Paolo Di Canio. "If we learn this we improve quick. We have to be nasty. We have to mark. If my central defender loses a younger guy at the back post without a jump, it can be a problem. It may be not fair to point the finger, but who made the mistake? Not Paolo di Canio.
"I'm not worried. We are here to improve. If we don't learn from it, we will have a problem in the future. We can take many positive things from the game. We dominated and spent 80 minutes in their half.
"We weren't freely ferocious. One goal lets you think negative. For 80 minutes we kept the ball. The only team that tried to play football and create was only Sunderland. We were in their half for 80 minutes. We had some good chances, not incredible. There was only one team that deserved to win and that was Sunderland.
The negative things are individually."
There remains a desire to strengthen, to add more players to his squad. Di Canio insisted he did not want to sell Stephane Sessegnon, but then admitted that he would do so only if he was guaranteed a top class forward and midfielder would be bought as replacement. He needs goals. Ji Dong-Won and Connor Wickham were upfront by the finish. They have three Premier League goals between them.
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