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Three second-half goals allowed Sunderland to pick up their first Barclays Premier League win in seven attempts at the expense of 10-man Fulham. A red card for Fulham captain Brede Hangeland for a foul on Lee Cattermole was the significant moment of a nervy yet well-contested first half. A 50th-minute goal from Steven Fletcher, the striker’s first since a 1-0 win at Wigan in September, opened the scoring before substitute Mladen Petric levelled for the hosts.
Sunderland then scored twice within seven minutes of Petric’s equaliser, through Carlos Cuellar and Stephane Sessegnon, to eventually triumph 3-1 and pick up only their second win at Craven Cottage in the Premier League era.
Both sides had half chances in the opening exchanges with Dimitar Berbatov and Sebastian Larsson coming close. Fulham manager Martin Jol was forced into a change as Alex Kacaniklic went off injured after 27 minutes with Hugo Rodallega replacing him. Things went from bad to worse for Jol as his captain Hangeland was dismissed moments later for a two-footed tackle on Cattermole. Fulham reacted well and Berbatov could have scored when he was picked out in the area by Damien Duff, but could only fire straight at Simon Mignolet.
The hosts continued to attack with 10 men and came close through Berbatov again before the break. Hughes played a through-ball into the former Manchester United forward whose shot across goal flew just wide.
Fulham started the second half the stronger despite their numerical disadvantage, with Berbatov pulling the strings and almost took the lead after 49 minutes when John Arne Riise’s cross-shot was deflected by Phil Bardsley on to the crossbar. But Sunderland broke and went ahead as Adam Johnson’s perfectly weighted pass found Fletcher rushing through on Mark Schwarzer’s goal and the Scotland forward slid the ball calmly into the far corner of the goal.
Fulham were hit by a second injury when Bryan Ruiz pulled up right in front of the home dugout, and Petric was the chosen replacement. The Croatia international almost made an immediate impact as he latched onto Rodallega’s header before blazing his effort wide with his first touch. The Black Cats came close to a second goal as Johnson’s 25-yard effort forced a save from Schwarzer.
The open nature of the game meant that Fulham were always going to create chances and they finally took one just after the hour as Duff just stayed onside and crossed for Petric to level the game. Fulham’s bad luck continued as Petric had to leave the pitch to receive treatment on a cut received while scoring and Sunderland took full advantage against nine men to regain the lead just two minutes later.
Larsson floated in a corner that was headed in by Cuellar. The points were secured five minutes later with Sunderland’s third goal. The visitors broke forward at pace and Sessegnon cut in from the left before arrowing an unstoppable effort in off the far post.
Fulham had both Rodallega and Berbatov playing in midfield roles and the latter freed Steve Sidwell but Mignolet was quickly off his line to stop his effort. The Belgian goalkeeper was also on hand to produce a marvellous save to deny Petric a second goal with just over six minutes to go. Sunderland then saw the remainder of the game out with relative ease although Fulham still had a couple of half-chances to score a consolation.
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill: "I'm delighted to win the game. Of course sendings-off change the dynamic of matches; we saw it yesterday in the Tottenham v Arsenal game. You have to try and take advantage of that and we did that in the second half. They were never out of the match but I was pleased for us to score some goals and win away from home. Our goalkeeper has made two fantastic saves and he is having a fantastic season, and Fletcher was fantastic, too.
"Confidence is a big thing and when you see someone like [Stephane] Sessegnon score that type of goal, he has been searching for that confidence all season. Sessegnon had a couple of months last year when he was absolutely outstanding for us and he won the player of the year. He has been searching for that type of form one way or another but his family have settled now, which is important. [Adam Johnson] was playing in a team at Manchester City where he is getting 20-25 minutes in matches to try and do something or coming on when they are in front, they are a terrific side. Here he is having to start the matches, with respect to us we are not remotely as good as Manchester City, so he is having to strive, he is having to do more for us and he is getting there."
Fulham manager Martin Jol: "The third goal was the killer, it was a great goal, but we could have scored and had a few one-on-ones with the 'keeper. It was fantastic and you couldn't ask for more from a neutral perspective. It was an unbelievable game that we played with 10 men at 1-0 down, 2-1 down, 3-1 down so we had to go for the goal. We kept plugging away and there was so much quality. Maybe we should have scored once or twice and had a cushion to help, even with 10 men we did OK. With the quality players we have got we still could have scored one or two goals."
|01 Dec 2012||v Spurs (H)|
|12 May 2013||v Liverpool (H)|
|13 Apr 2013||v Aston Villa (A)|
|04 May 2013||v Reading (H)|
|24 Nov 2012||v Stoke (A)|
|02 Mar 2013||v Sunderland (A)|