Whilst this performance wasn’t as abject, it was certainly troubling. Roy seems to set his sides out to be difficult to break down away from home, but the major flaw in a strategy that has brought some useful points this seasons is that an opposition goal renders it rather obsolete. The goal didn’t come until the second half but, despite carving out some decent chances as the clock ticked down, I’d be lying if I told you we looked like scoring.
Such ‘defensive’ displays inevitably prompt discussions about our ambition. If we are limiting ourselves to shutting down opposition who are on ‘our level,’ what does that say about ambition? Is there an argument that says if we attacked at the Stadium of Light that we could draw a little more reward? It’s largely an academic discussion to have after the event – and, in any case, I doubt any our visitors are so well-placed as to bring about a change of tactics on the road.
Dickson Etuhu did start but he wasn’t impressive. He wasn’t as bad as some of his trenchant critics want to make out. In fact, I’d suggest that Danny Murphy was perhaps even worse in the heart of midfield. I lost count of the number of times he lost the ball and on several ocassions it could have cost us. It might be a little harsh to blame the goal that Kenwyne Jones scored squarely on Murphy’s shoulders but Steed Malbranque brushed him off easily before the ball broke to Andy Reid. Schwarzer might have palmed the ball further away from the goal, but Jones reacted quicker than anyone in a yellow shirt.
The most frustrating aspect of our defeat was that we started well. We passed the ball around well but the tempo was a little slow and we didn’t really get in behind Sunderland. Thinking about it now, I can’t recall a difficult save that Martin Fulop had to make – and therein lies the problem. You can’t blame Zamora and AJ for that, even if Bobby did fluff a couple of presentable chances at the far post. The strikers had very little service and cut very frustrated figures towards the end of the evening. I don’t blame them. And how Simon Davies managed to lift the ball over the bar from a couple of yards with Fulop stranded is a question even he probably can’t answer.
What this all does is place a lot more pressure on us ahead of Saturday’s game against Portsmouth. It was alreadyh going to be a bit of a six-pointer but – as both sides lost in midweek – the significance of the encounter might have even increased in the last 24 hours. Hopefully, we’ll be a little more adventurous at home but if we continue to drop points from winnable games mid-table security will be just a distant memory by May.
SUNDERLAND (4-4-2): Fulop; Bardsley, Ferdinand, Collins, McCartney (McShane 70); Malbranque, Whitehead, Tainio (Leadbitter 81), Reid (Edwards 75); Cisse, Jones. Subs (not used): Colgan, Diouf, Chopra, Healy.
Goals: Jones 55.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hangeland, Hughes; Etuhu (Nevland 83), Murphy, Dempsey, Davies (Gera 76); A. Johnson, Zamora. Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Stoor, Andreasen, Kallio, Baird.
REFEREE: Mark Halsey (Lancashire).