Adam Johnson’s hat-trick spearheaded Sunderland’s third win in six days, a ruthless demolition of feeble Fulham that leaves the Whites back in the mire at the wrong end of the table.

The England winger even created the other Sunderland goal as he sparkled in the shimmering cold at Craven Cottage with Rene Meulensteen’s beleaguered side unable to do anything to prevent Johnson from running riot. He shot the Black Cats in front before Ki-Sung Yeung established total control for the visitors against their relegation rivals, and the pair combined again after Steve Sidwell had briefly given Fulham hope of a fightback, before completing his treble with a penalty after a clumsy Philippe Senderos challenge on Jozy Altidore.

Gus Poyet’s men had grown in confidence after FA Cup victories over Carlisle United and Manchester United earlier this month but they craved a win against their relegation rivals to give their own survival hopes a shot in the arm. The Mackems – and Sunderland-born winger Johnson – delivered. He produced two precise free-kicks to give them a commanding lead. The first was an outstanding curler that had David Stockdale scrambling across his line unsuccessfully and the second gave Ki the chance to double the lead – with the South Korean’s shot deflected in by Senderos.

Fulham had began brightly in a game that they really needed to win. Dimitar Berbatov uncharacteristically missed two presentable chances in the first ten minutes – and Sunderland gained belief from that pair of let offs. There wasn’t much Clint Dempsey could do on his return to his old club on loan, with Poyet’s well-drilled midfield suffocating any moments of creativity that the hosts threatened to knit together. Lee Cattermole ran the show at the base of the Sunderland midfield – and he was influential in snuffing out any home revival after Sidwell had headed in a Damien Duff corner.

A gritty contest then became end-to-end with both teams desperate for all three points. Fulham pushed players forward and were breathtakingly cut apart on the break. Ki carried the ball through a barren midfield area and picked out the advancing Johnson with a peach of pass that allowed the winger – arguably in the form of his life – to slot past Stockdale without breaking stride. It was fitting that Johnson rounded off the scoring with time ticking away after Senderos had brought down Altidore. He was unstoppable and Sunderland could well stay up on the evidence of this superb display. The future looks bleak for Fulham, however.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1); Stockdale; Riether, Senderos, Amorebieta, Riise; Parker, Sidwell; Duff (Dejagah 68), Taarabt (Kasami 63), Dempsey (Bent 79); Berbatov. Subs (not used): Etheridge, Hughes, Richardson, Kacaniklic.

BOOKED: Sidwell, Riise, Parker

GOAL: Sidwell (52).

SUNDERLAND (4-1-4-1): Mannone; Bardsley, O’Shea, Brown, Alonso; Cattermole; Borini (Larsson 75), Ki, Colback, Johnson (Celustka 87); Fletcher (Altidore 66) Subs (not used): Pickford, Gardner, Giaccherini, Ji.

BOOKED: Bardsley, Colback, Johnson.

GOALS: Johnson (28, 68, pen 85), Ki (41).

REFEREE: Mike Dean (Wirral).