Confirmed as the supporters who generate the greatest volume in the Premier League, it is difficult to imagine what Sunderland's marvellous fans can find to shout about as another season of painful struggle unfolds. Hitherto, their collective noise has manifested itself as a cacophony of passionate encouragement but the first voices of discontent were heard long before the final whistle. In spite of this hard-earned draw, Roy Keane stands on the cusp of his first crisis as the club's truly embattled manager.
The fabled decibels may have increased the moment the talismanic forward Kenwyne Jones clinched a point with a powerful header five minutes from time, but this was a match Sunderland needed to win. Avoiding a fourth straight defeat was no consolation to the one-dimensional Black Cats and a terrible miss by substitute Anthony Stokes, in the third minute of stoppage time, summed up a team stripped of all confidence.
Keane, of course, chose to concentrate on another admirable comeback but the normally assured Irishman did admit: "I am a bit confused. I am not happy or sad or frustrated. In fact I don't know how I feel. We were sloppy in the first half and we need to start games more quickly.
"However, when you're a goal down at home with five minutes to go I suppose a draw feels like a point gained. We're asking our players to push their bodies to the limit right now and that's something you'd expect during the Christmas or the Easter period. I don't like doing it in October but that's what is happening. It may be that I'm pushing the players too hard and I have had people watching our training to see if that's the case." The second-half dismissal of the former Colchester defender, Greg Halford, will further stretch Keane's resources.
Two innocuous offences earned a brace of yellow cards and the full-back will be suspended for the trip to Manchester City and the first of this season's derbies against Newcastle United at the Stadium of Light. "I can't even remember Greg getting booked in the first half," Keane said. "But now we have a full-back and a central defender [Paul McShane] suspended and that will ask more questions of my players."
If Keane was baffled by the disparity in quality between his team's dire first-half performance and a much improved second-half display, then Lawrie Sanchez, the Fulham manager, admitted that deep sadness was his overwhelming emotion.
"It depresses me," said the former Northern Ireland coach. "Our failure to win games is getting to be a bit of a problem scenario that we need to sort out. I'm extremely disappointed that we didn't win the game and we could have lost it. That would have been a gross injustice. But we do a lot of things well and we just have to learn how to take three points home."
A fine free kick coolly converted by the midfielder, Simon Davies, saw Fulham take a deserved lead in the 32nd minute but they should have killed the game by half time.
Instead, Fulham sat back after the break and, backed by those loud and proud folk of Wearside, Sunderland gained the momentum required to lay the foundation for Jones' late equaliser. "Kenwyne hasn't trained all week," added Keane. "He's playing with an injury but he's a team man and that's what I like about him."
Fulham's supporters were typically sedate but, on this evidence, the top flight's quietest fans have cause to sing their players' praises. By contrast, those vocal followers of a Sunderland side in decline could be excused a period of quiet reflection after another chance to seal three points slipped by.Reuse content