Lawrie Sanchez cut a disconlate figure at the end of this game at the Stadium of Light. Fulham’s seemingly fruitless search for an away win is becoming a tired old story. Once again, there were much the better side for most of the contest and took the lead through a smart Simon Davies free-kick. When Greg Halford received a second yellow card for tugging back David Healy as he ran through on goal, it seemed likely that the wait might end. But Fulham just don’t make it easy for themselves.
In truth, the home side might have snatched all three points in the final stages. That would have been harsh but Fulham faded alarmingly at the death. Hopes of matching their last league win on their travels, which came in these parts at Newcastle last September, faded when Jones rose highest to head home a cross from Grant Leadbitter to the despair of the travelling supporters. It could – and perhaps should – have been even worse. Substitute Anthony Stokes was foiled by a desperate Antti Niemi save in injury time, not that his failure to find the target mollified Sanchez.
We dominated from the first minute to the 85th and in terms of play there was only one team in it. You wouldn’t believe they were the home team but we didn’t defend a ball into the box and the big lad got on the end of it. We haven’t killed teams with a second goal and it is another Achilles heel for us of conceding soft goals.
Nobody could argue with Sanchez’s point about Fulham’s utter domination this time. Sunderland, impressive in defeat against West Ham last week, went with an unchanged side but it was the visitors who played the more fluent, vibrant football. Davies was already causing chaos with his free-kicks before he opened the scoring improbably from 30 yards. His first effort located Clint Dempsey in space and the American’s reaction told you that he felt he should have beaten Craig Gordon rather than placing his free header straight at the goalkeeper. Healy’s runs for causing problems for the Sunderland rearguard and after robbing Danny Higginbotham, the striker should have done better than to shoot wastefully wide.
The Northern Irishman’s cross-cum-shot drifted just out of reach of Diomansy Kamara and Dempsey spurned another headed opportunity from a Davies free-kick. Perhaps it was frustration at the prolifigacy of others that persuaded the former Tottenham midfielder to have a crack at goal from fully 30 yards in a central position. Sanchez was certainly suggesting he should have a go and, with Gordon expecting a cross into a packed penalty area, it had the desired effect, as the goalkeeper couldn’t prevent the sweet strike from heading into the top corner.
The goal was the least Fulham’s bright start merited and it took until stoppage time for Sunderland to offer any kind of response. Elliot Omozusi had enjoyed a composed full league debut at right back for Fulham and he did just enjoy to put Jones off as the Trinidad & Tobago forward leapt to reach an inviting Halford cross. Fired up by what could only have been a fiesty half-time team talk from Roy Keane, the Black Cats at least put the Fulham defence under some serious pressure at the start of the second period. But they failed to test Niemi despite Ross Wallace’s dangerous centres causing a good deal of concern.
At the other end, Fulham would once again to left rueing their inability to extend a lead. The acrobatic Dempsey, still working hard and getting forward to good effect, might have been a little ambitious when he tried to hook a cross goalwards with an overhead kick and he was unfortunate to see it fly over the crossbar. But when Halford, perhaps with his powers of reasoning affected by an earlier head injury, cynically denied Healy a goalscoring opportunity you felt the numerical advantage would carry Fulham to victory. That, though, reckoned without the late nerves and Sunderland’s belated fightback. The misery goes on.
SUNDERLAND (4-4-2): Gordon; Halford, Higginbotham, Nosworthy, Collins; Leadbitter, Etuhu (Stokes 61), Miller, Wallace (Harte 71); Jones, Chopra (Daryl Murphy 61).
SENT OFF: Halford (67).
GOAL: Jones (86).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Niemi; Omozusi, Bocanegra, Hughes, Stefanovic; Davis, Dannny Murphy, Davies, Dempsey; Kamara (Seol 82), Healy (Kuqi 69). Subs (not used): Warner, Ashton, Smertin.
BOOKED: Dempsey, Davies, Stefanovic, Bocanegra.
GOAL: Davies (32).
REFEREE: Andre Marriner (West Midlands).