Adam Johnson’s hat-trick spearheaded Sunderland’s third win in six days, a ruthless 4-1 Barclays Premier League victory at Fulham.
The 11-cap England midfielder laid on Sunderland’s other goal as Gus Poyet’s men drove to a comprehensive win at Craven Cottage.
Goals from Johnson and Ki Sung-Yueng had Sunderland in total control at the break, before Steve Sidwell headed his fifth of the season for Fulham after the turnaround.
Johnson had laid on Sunderland’s second for Ki, before the South Korean returned the favour for the Black Cats’ third.
Swansea loan man Ki’s fine slide-rule pass allowed Johnson to kill off the game, and the 26-year-old delivered as Sunderland claimed their first league win in three attempts.
The Sunderland-born winger then slotted a penalty in the dying stages after Philippe Senderos fouled Jozy Altidore.
Poyet’s side had seen off Carlisle and Manchester United in cup action since the turn of the year, but badly needed a Premier League win.
Two smart Johnson free-kicks had Sunderland in control, the first a curler into the top corner that David Stockdale could not tip clear.
Johnson’s second set-piece allowed Ki to fire home via Senderos’ deflection.
Dimitar Berbatov wasted two chances in the first 10 minutes as Fulham fired out of the blocks, but the impetus yielded neither reward nor control.
Clint Dempsey could offer minimal impact as Fulham’s influence waned, with regimented Sunderland’s superior organisation paying dividend.
Lee Cattermole, so often derided as the wrong side of aggressive, nullified Adel Taarabt in a clear analysis-room ploy from Sunderland boss Poyet.
Fulham’s immediate second-half riposte almost created a gritty contest, with Sidwell heading home Damien Duff’s corner.
But the home side could not sustain any kind of comeback, and Sunderland powered to a fine result.
Berbatov had two gilt-edged chances in the opening 10 minutes as Fulham settled faster and brighter.
The big Bulgarian barged his way to a clear header from an early corner, only to add no power as he nodded into the ground.
Sascha Riether then robbed Wes Brown before drilling a fine low cross into the area.
Half a yard behind the play though, Berbatov was just not quite sharp enough to control.
The ball bobbled into touch on the other side of the field, and with it went Fulham’s first-half opportunities.
Buoyed by avoiding early censure the Black Cats started to build a foothold.
Riether had to move smartly to cut out Fabio Borini’s neat through-ball, denying Jack Colback a sight of goal, and Phil Bardsley’s 20-yard shot was tipped away by Stockdale.
Steven Fletcher then headed over after John O’Shea nodded back across goal from a well-worked Johnson free-kick.
Riether’s near-post flick on evaded any Fulham team-mate as the hosts battled to regain the ascendancy.
And Taarabt rejected the smart positioning of both Berbatov and Dempsey to try a tricky near-post effort that Vito Mannone was more than wise to.
Berbatov’s acrobatic effort came to nought as well, as Fulham failed to generate any cast-iron opportunities in their second spell of dominance.
It was all too short-lived for Rene Meulensteen’s men though, as Sunderland pinched the lead thanks to Johnson’s curling free-kick.
Sidwell was incensed referee Mike Dean even awarded the foul, with Johnson capitalising on minimal touch to go down 20 yards out.
Stockdale will certainly feel he should have tipped Johnson’s shot around his left post though, after getting a glove to the accurate effort.
Fulham’s second-choice goalkeeper then spilled a Sunderland cross, only for Fernando Amorebieta to head Marcos Alonso’s shot clear.
Sunderland’s pressure told again when Johnson’s low free-kick reached Swansea loan man Ki, who finished courtesy of a Senderos deflection.
Taarabt wasted a promising free-kick to open the second half, before Riether flashed the ball across goal, only for Mannone to claim.
Duff’s pinpoint corner delivery dragged Fulham back into the contest though, with Sidwell sneaking free to nod home.
Senderos had to mop up as Stockdale mad a brave call to come out of his area for a clearance, only for Fletcher to put him under pressure.
The match opened up with both sides sensing their time to strike.
And Sunderland made the most of a lightning break to steal control again.
Racing through a sparse midfield with Fulham over-committed, Ki bided his time and threaded a superlative ball through to the onrushing Johnson.
The former Manchester City midfielder slotted past the motionless Stockdale to reassert Sunderland’s dominance.
Against the run of the second half maybe but not the overall contest.
And with time running out Johnson rolled a penalty past Stockdale, after Senderos left a leg hanging out to take down Altidore.
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).
[A week after THAT win against QPR our newest contributor shares his views on the team selection. Welcome to the HammyEnd team Joseph!]
In Fulham’s previous games this season Martin Jol has tried some interesting and constructive, though far from wholly successful experiments with set-up, individual player’s positions, and personnel. He can now be justly satisfied that for in this game almost all his tactical decisions and strategic ploys worked out. In particular he is to be congratulated on the following initiatives.
First, in abandoning the 4-2-3-1 very effectively deployed in the mid-week European game and reverting to 4-4-2. The new flexibility that Jol has introduced in adopting different systems so as to adapt to specific circumstances is very welcome.
Secondly, in choosing Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora as the two front men. This was a far from obvious choice before the game. Although now the man in form, AJ had a hard game in mid week, and there were clearly other contenders. Despite seeming the classic English ‘little and quick, with big and powerful’ front two combination, AJ and Zamora have over the past three seasons started together on relatively few occasions, due to their respective injury and form problems.
Thirdly, in playing Mousa Dembele on the right of midfield, and Clint Dempsey on the left with licence to get central and forward. I do believe that this is the most effective positioning for both these gifted ballplayers. Dembele is a most exciting player. At his best his rapid change of pace and direction whist retaining close control of the ball, distinctly reminds me of Charlie Cook, (for post baby boomers, he is the great Chelsea Anglo-Scots player of the 1960’s.) However he is not an out and out striker, as has been previously tried. Dempsey can be a very brave and effective loan striker, though he is better used as an attacking midfielder.
Fourthly, in sticking with the Hangeland / Baird axis as central defenders. (The Hangeland and Senderos combination used in some earlier games just did not work. With this we even saw some uncharacteristic mistakes on the part of the usually immaculately safe Hangeland.) I do believe that the best potential combination remains the time tested partnership of Hangeland and Hughes. (Baird possibly doesn’t have the physical stature to make a regular central defender for all occasions. Lescott was on occasion able to boss him aside in the game against Man City). Baird would be my right (or utility left) back of choice, even though Grygera is a real find as a right back.
Fifthly, in combining Danny Murphy with Steve Sidwell in central midfield. Danny again had a superb game. He is that rare talent, what the Italian’s call a “register”, a type of playmaker who by his distribution and positioning can rule a game. Murphy aided and abetted by Sidwell, did control the midfield and direct this game. (Jol has also learnt, as did Sparky in the second half of last season, to substitute Murphy in the last quarter before he starts to fade.)
Sixthly, I would like to think that the decision that Baird and Riise should take the goal kicks resulted from a positive tactical decision, and not from any injury problem on the part of the goal keeper. Schwartzer is a truly great goalkeeper, arguably the best in the premiership at picking balls out of the air in difficult situations. If he has a weakness it is in some of his distribution which is not always optimum, particularly from goal kicks. Baird is a soccer artilleryman very much suited to taking goal kicks. (It does make me nostalgic to see a fullback taking gaol kicks. I recall that Tony Macedo, Fulham’s goalkeeper in my youth, often ceded this duty to his fullback Jim Langley.)
Lastly, one slight disappointment, in that Jol did not persist with using Mathew Briggs at left back. This season Briggs has shown real potential as a genuine wing-back of quality, (although I was not convinced by Jol’s experiment in the early European games to try him as a left winger.) Brigg’s performance against Chelsea was particularly impressive. Briggs has real pace, unlike Riise, who although a consummate professional, is now appreciably less quick than in the days of his pomp with Liverpool.
So let us hear it for the new manager, who has been brave enough to try things out, and also got things right……………….at least for this Derby game.
Well, bums. That’s pretty much all I can say in response to the news that Bobby Zamora faces a 5 month absence following the surgery on his broken leg and ligament damage. Much has already been said about how Mousa Dembele is keen to step up to fill the void (not that he’d have much choice about it anyway), and how Andy Johnson should be back and fighting fit next month and is also keen to prove himself.
The thing that worries me is that talk of Bobby’s injury has seemingly been accompanied by a tone of deep foreboding, like this is signalling the end of our season. In September. Don’t get me wrong, I think Zamora’s a brilliant player and was an integral part of the team, but it’s a bit harsh on the rest of the squad to say that, essentially, it doesn’t matter what they do, we’re doomed to fail. Charming.
We’ve got Dembele, Dempsey, Davies and Gera who are all more than capable of scoring goals. We’ve an experienced and effective midfield. We’ll have a solid defence when Pantsil gets his mojo back (where did he get the collywobbles from? Answers on a postcard please). We’ve a squad jam-packed with bloody good players and the whole point of football is that it’s a team game. Bobby’s absence, whilst being a big blow, is not going to mean relegation or even, necessarily, a bottom half finish.
Just you wait and see.