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A double from Collins John helped Fulham come from behind to beat beleaguered Sunderland and ease Chris Coleman’s relegation worries at Craven Cottage tonight. The Whites had picked up just one point from their last three games – having lost the lead three times in a deeply frustrating draw with Aston Villa – and the league’s bottom side appeared ready to inflict more misery on a side short on confidence when Liam Lawrence’s fabulous volley put the Black Cats ahead after seven minutes.

The home side’s defensive deficiencies were on full display. There appeared to be little danger when Danny Collins floated in a hopeful cross from the left but Zat Knight fluffed his attempt at clearing Fulham’s lines and Lawrence punished him with a lovely left-footed volley from 20 yards. It was Lawrence’s second goal of the season and the sent the travelling supporters into ecstacy.

Fulham weren’t exactly fluent as an attacking force but almost equalised when Luis Boa Morte’s low ball looked destined to reach the returning Papa Bouba Diop – only for Tommy Miller to clear in the nick of time. The powerful Senegalese midfielder’s comeback from injury problems only lasted 40 minutes, with Diop limping off five minutes before half time. The hosts at least at the solace of an equaliser to take into the half time break when Brian McBride flicked on Tomasz Radzinski’s cross and John nodded in at the back post.

It remained a tight contest until the hour mark when Stephen Caldwell was dismissed for a professional foul on Heidar Helguson. The Scottish defender deserved his red card for hauling down the Icelandic forward just outside the area – and the visitors were fortunate not to concede a penalty. It didn’t take long for Fulham’s numerical advantage to tell. A swift break saw Boa Morte feed Helguson and the substitute’s deep cross from the left allowed John to evade the attentions of Gary Breen and Julio Arca to head home what proved to be a vital winner.

To their great credit, Sunderland continued to press for an unlikely equaliser. Emboldened by a triple substitute from McCarthy, the Black Cats sent a number of long balls forward that certainly discomforted the Fulham defence but didn’t lead to anything approaching a clear cut chance. There was more injury woe for Coleman before the end. Steed Malbranque’s return from a lengthy injury lay-off lasted just ten minutes as the Frenchman was forced off following a high tackle from Miller, meaning that Fulham were left to play the final ten minutes of what had become a nervy contest with ten men themselves.

Sunderland roused themselves for an up and at them finale but couldn’t find a late leveller. Lawrence and Jon Stead came closest – both shooting wide when well placed – whilst Kelvin Davis produced a sharp save from McBride’s free-kick as Fulham looked to wrap up the three points at the other end. This tense victory came as a real relief to Coleman and the Fulham fans as the Whites moved up to fourteenth in the table.

FULHAM (4-5-1): Warner; Leacock, Rosenior (N. Jensen 75), Pearce, Knight; Diop (Helguson 40), Legwinski, Boa Morte, John (Malbranque 69), Radzinski; McBride. Subs (not used): Drobny, Rehman.

BOOKED: Leacock, Legwinski.

GOALS: John (43, 61).

SUNDERLAND (4-4-2): Davis; Hoyte (Murphy 64), Arca, Breen, Caldwell; Lawrence, Whitehead, Collins, Le Tallec (Nosworthy 64); Stead (Gray 65), Miller. Subs (not used): Alnwick, Woods.

BOOKED: Miller, Arca.

SENT OFF: Caldwell.

GOAL: Lawrence (7).

REFEREE: Dermot Gallagher (Oxfordshire).

ATTENDANCE: 19,372.