Even Roy Hodgson, a relentless source of positivity since taking over this poisoned chalice at Christmas, sounded close to throwing in the towel after Fulham squandered another opportunity to take matters into their own hands at the foot of the table. After Sunderland had secured a precious away win at Craven Cottage that both seems to have secured their survival and condemned their hosts to the Championship, Hodgson had the haunted look of someone resigned to the inevitable. “The only remotely positive thing I can say is that the team kept going,” he said.

The latest must-win for the Whites actually began well. Hodgson’s team began at a blistering tempo and penned the Black Cats back. While Roy Keane brooded on the Riverside touchline, his players struggled to keep Fulham out. But the hosts failed to take their chances and were punished. You can perhaps forgive Brian McBride for being a bit rusty after spending so long on the sidelines after that horrific knee injury, but a man of the American’s aerial ability will know he should have done better than direct a header straight at Craig Gordon when found by a beautiful ball from Jimmy Bullard. Simon Davies drove fractionally over the bar from the edge of the area – and the danger of such prolificacy was highlighted when Danny Collins headed in an Andy Reid free-kick, only for Mark Halsey to rule it out for a push on Paul Stalteri.

Davies drilled another effort inches over the bar as Fulham pressed for the vital opener, but the breakthrough actually came at the other end right on the cusp of half time. Fulham were discombobulated after only half clearing a corner and Daryl Murphy took advantage, dipping his shoulder to get away from Brede Hangeland before supplying a splendid cross that Collins nodded in after giving Aaron Hughes the slip.

Fulham responded well to what must have been a lively Hodgson team talk. McBride and Diomansy Kamara combined only for Nyron Nosworthy to clear after the Senegalese forward failed to get a telling touch on the cross. That proved costly. The Whites were undone by a route one goal as Kenwyn Jones flicked up a hopeful forward ball and Michael Chopra, only introduced by Keane at half time, lifted a lovely finish over Kelly after holding off the attentions of Hughes. The confidence was brimming in the Sunderland side now and Keller did brilliantly to repel a long-distance drive from Grant Leadbitter.

The home crowd had some hope of salvation when David Healy scored a goal out of absolutely nothing, something the Northern Irish cult hero hasn’t really produced in his season at Craven Cottage. Healy found the top corner with a lovely left-footed curler from 20 yards, but the celebrations had barely died down before Sunderland went up the other end and put clear water between the sides once more.

Hangeland, trying to start another attack now the impetus was with the hosts, lost the ball in his own final third and Daryl Murphy drove into the area before squaring superbly for Jones, who stroked a sumptuous finish into the far corner from fifteen yards. Fulham kept going – as Hodgson recognised – but their failure to finish is a major finish why they are staring relegation in the face. Healy provided the perfect example as time ticked away – heading agonisingly wide – before delirious celebrations from the Wearsiders at the Putney End greeted the final whistle.

FULHAM (4-4-2): Keller; Stalteri (Dempsey 62), Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Andreasen (Healy 57), Danny Murphy, Davies, Bullard; McBride, Kamara (Bouazza 72). Subs (not used): Warner, Bocanegra.

BOOKED: Andreasen, McBride.

GOAL: Healy (74).

SUNDERLAND (4-4-2): Gordon; Bardsley, Collins, Evans, Nosworthy; Whitehead, Reid, Richardson (Leadbitter 57), Edwards (Chopra 45); Jones, Daryl Murphy (O’Donovan 87). Subs (not used): Fulop, Higginbotham.

GOALS: Collins (45), Chopra (54), Jones (76).

REFEREE: Mark Halsey (Lancashire).