Louis Saha punished Sunderland for failing to take their chances with an 85th winner as the Whites pushed the Black Cats closer to the relegation trap door in Shepherd’s Bush this afternoon.

The visitors had dominated for long periods of a tight contest, with Fulham visibly tired after a third fixture in six days, but they could not find the finishing touch in front of goal. The Wearsiders have now lost six away league matches in succession and it is very difficult to see a path to salvation for Sunderland – especially given the emotional impact of this damaging defeat.

Fulham fashioned the first chance when Junichi Inamoto glided away from Micky Gray and crossed for Steed Malbranque, who should have beaten Thomas Sorensen from close range. Instead, the Dane spread himself to make a stupendous save and Saha saw his effort from the rebound blocked at source by Jody Craddock. Sunderland’s front two of Tore Andre Flo and Kevin Phillips posed problems for the Fulham rearguard all afternoon but the former Chelsea forward wasted a glorious opportunity when he chipped Maik Taylor from Stephen Wright’s through ball but his finish was off taken.

Philips saw a goalbound drive from Gavin McCann’s cross repelled by Sylvain Legwinski and Flo almost scored without knowing anything about it when Matt Piper’s corner bounced towards goal off his backside – only for Taylor to smother the loose ball. The Northern Ireland international then made a fine save to keep out Jody Craddock’s bicycle kick with former Sunderland stalwart Andy Melville beating Kevin Kilbane to the rebound.

Taylor should have been punished for coming and failing to collect a cross but Flo failed to slot into the empty net and Kilbane’s volley was nodded off the goalline by Pierre Wome. Philips fired wide after being found by Kilbane and the former Watford striker probably knew it wasn’t going to be his day when a venomous volley just about cleared the crossbar. Fulham added insult to injury five minutes from time when Andrejs Stolcers worked a yard of space to whip in a cross and Saha soared majestically to head home.

FULHAM (4-4-2): Taylor; Finnan, Harley, Melville, Djetou; Legwinski, Inamoto (Ouaddoh 61), Malbranque (Stolcers 71), Wome; Sava (Hammond 74), Saha. Subs (not used): Herrera, Leacock.

BOOKED: Harley.

GOAL: Saha (85).

SUNDERLAND (4-4-2): Sorensen; Wright, Craddock, El Karkouri, Gray (McCartney 84); Piper (Proctor 80), McAteer, McCann, Kilbane; Flo, Phillips. Subs (not used): Macho, Babb, Arca.

BOOKED: McCann, McAteer.

REFEREE: Eddie Wolstenhome (Lancashire)


Booked: McCann, McAteer.

REFEREE: Eddie Wolstenholme (Lancashire).