Japanese World Cup star Junichi Inamoto heaped more pressure on Peter Reid with a superb display that put Sunderland to the sword.
The midfielder put Fulham in front after 34 minutes and, after Barry Hayles had capitalised on a mistake by Thomas Sorensen to make it 2-0, set up Steve Marlet to complete a rousing display by the Londoners.
Jean Tigana's side were full value for their win on an afternoon when they combined flair with sheer hard work and took their chances with aplomb. By contrast, Sunderland, who fielded new £10million strike force Tore Andre Flo and Marcus Stewart, created little and after a brief first-half flurry in which Fulham keeper Edwin van der Sar stood firm, rarely looked like adding totheir tally of just two goals all season.
Claudio Reyna again worked hard to try to inspire his team, but with Sean Davis, Inamoto, Sylvain Legwinski and Steed Malbranque dominating in midfield,even he could not stem the tide which eventually engulfed his side. After Tuesday night's demolition job at Middlesbrough, Reid desperately neededa result, a fact illustrated by the banks of empty seats at the Stadium ofLight.
But although there was, as ever, plenty of effort from his players, there wassimply not enough quality as strike partners Flo and Stewart were left to feedoff meagre rations. That said, both men had chances during a half in which they were largelydominated by Alain Goma and the impressive Zat Knight, but came up against animmovable object in the shape of van der Sar.
Neither the Dutchman nor Sorensen was called upon nearly enough during theopening 45 minutes, but when they were, the Fulham man was not found wantingwhile the Dane was left horribly exposed. It was he who had to pick the ball out of his net when, with 34 minutes gone, Rufus Brevett's cross by way of Barry Hayles' flick reached Inamoto at the farpost and he controlled calmly before firing home. The goal came against the run of play after Sunderland had finally managed towrest control in the middle of the field from Davis and Inamoto with Reyna andJason McAteer trying to prompt their side. However, a long-range Stewart effort aside, they had to wait half an hour fora meaningful effort on goal when van der Sar reacted superbly to turn away MattPiper's powerful header.
Seconds later, Reyna's through-ball allowed Stewart to beat the offside trap,but his first touch was heavy and a combination of the keeper and Brevett didenough to hamper the striker before Knight cleared up. Van der Sar rescued his side again four minutes before the break as Flothreatened to force his way through as the mood on the terraces turned ugly. If anything, Fulham's grip on the game increased after the break as Sunderland laboured before shooting themselves in the foot.
Sorensen, who spilled Massimo Maccarone's shot to allow Szilrad Nemeth toopening the scoring at Middlesbrough on Tuesday night, made a hash of aclearance and only succeeded in delivering the ball to Inamoto's feet. The Japanese international immediately picked out Hayes' run, and he used hisstrength to hold off Stephen Wright before coolly slotting past the Dane to makeit 2-0.
Reid's response was to call in the cavalry, replacing Thomas Butler withwarhorse Niall Quinn and McAteer with Gavin McCann, who passed a fitness test onhis injured ankle yesterday. The changes, which were greeted by ironic cheers from the home fans, gave theBlack Cats greater impetus, but with Goma and Knight maintaining their grip, vander Sar remained just as under-employed as he had been for much of the first half. Indeed, the visitors, for whom strikers Hayles and Marlet battled manfully toshare the task of closing down in midfield, looked the more likely to score, andafter Knight had seen a close range shot from a Malbranque corner deflected justwide, they did just that.
The Wearsiders wasted an attacking free-kick and the ball was cleared toInamoto, who laid the ball into Marlet's path for the Frenchman to race clearand slot past Sorensen. Barely had the ball hit the back of the net that the exodus from the standsstarted, and a large proportion of the home supporters did not see van der Sarturn away Quinn's speculative 82nd-minute effort. Sorensen redeemed himself with a good save from Malbranque two minutes formtime, but with the visitors now in complete control, the whistle could not comesoon enough for his side.