Given Fulham’s laughably poor away record, another point on the road can’t be sniffed at. Although Clint Dempsey might have sealed a second successive away win on a late counter-attack, Martin Jol will be pleased with the point, particularly as he had to depend on a makeshift back four to keep Sunderland quiet. Without John Arne Riise, Stephen Kelly or Zdenek Grygera to call upon, Jol fielded four centre backs across the back and, despite some lucky escapes, emerged with a creditable draw.
It was close at times. The under-pressure Steve Bruce will reflect on some untimely misfortune in front of goal as he side largely dominated proceedings but were thwarted twice by the woodwork in a bright start. Kieran Richardson, restored to midfield in the absence of the suspended Sebastian Larsson, glanced the top of the crossbar with a header from Sebastian Sessegnon’s cross. The promising Jack Colback also smashed a shot against the woodwork. When they weren’t denied by the frame of the goal, Sunderland found Mark Schwarzer throwing himself in their way. Most impressively, he improvised to keep out Sessegnon’s deflected drive with his feet deep into injury-time.
Fulham were largely subdued, operating on the break. Moussa Dembele spurned their brightest opening, with Kieran Westwood sprawling to save his shot after the Belgian forward had burst past Michael Turner and Lee Cattermole. But clear-cut chances were at a premium for Jol’s side in a first half where organisation and patience came to the fore. They almost led at the break having forced two openings at set-pieces. First, Bobby Zamora’s downward header was blocked behind by Bardsley and then Cattermole cleared Dickson Etuhu’s header off the line from the resulting corner.
Sunderland continued to press for that elusive opener in the second period. Sessegnon and Ahmed Elmohamady were posing plenty of problems for the Fulham defence, but couldn’t find the telling final ball. Sessegnon saw a deflected shot moments after the restarted bundled to safety by Danny Murphy, but Bruce’s side looked most dangerous from corners. Chris Baird cleared Wes Brown’s goalbound header from inside the six-yard box before Sessegnon shot wide after Schwarzer had failed to claim a Bardsley delivery. The Australian keeper did redeem himself with a brilliant save with his feet to repel Sessegnon’s shot, which looked to have beaten him once it deflected off Philippe Senderos.
The visitors will rue their missed second half chances on the counter. Westwood did well to claw away a Baird free-kick and Andy Johnson, who replaced the limping and largely ineffectual Bobby Zamora, saw a low drive deflected wide. The best chance came in the closing stages when Schwarzer’s quick throw-out fed Dembele. The Belgian sped into the Sunderland half and released Dempsey with a raking pass, only for the American to snatch at the shot and send it wide of Westwood’s goal – when a return ball to the onrushing Dembele might have been a better option.
SUNDERLAND (4-4-1-1): Westwood; Bardsley, O’Shea, Turner, Brown; Cattermole, Colback (Ji Dong-Won 73), Elmohamady (Noble 88), Richardson; Sessegnon; Bendtner. Subs (not used): Carson, Egan, Gardner, Vaughan, Meyler.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Hughes, Baird, Hangeland, Senderos; Etuhu, Murphy; Duff (Ruiz 87), Dempsey (Briggs 90), Dembele; Zamora (Johnson 68). Subs (not used): Etheridge, Gecov, Kacaniklic, Kasami.
REFEREE: Anthony Taylor (Manchester).