Fulham produced a resolute and controlled display at the Stadium of Light on Sunday to secure a well-earned point. With chances few and far between, Fulham’s defence was certainly on top as the Whites expertly controlled the pace of the game.
Sunderland started this game on the front foot as Fulham, playing their eighth game in February, looked to sit back and test the water in the opening exchanges. Bobby Zamora continued up front for the Whites, supported by Zoltan Gera but other than a clipped effort on goal from Gera on six minutes, the duo saw little of the ball in the opening 10 minutes.
With the home side looking to notch an early goal, Fulham were content to bide their time in possession, with the back four weighing up their passing options carefully when on the ball – an almost European approach to the game.
With Frazier Campbell and Kieran Richardson looking active on the wings, the home side was eager to take advantage of the pace offered by their two wide men. But by the 20 minute mark neither goalkeeper had been required to make a save of any note, which was more to the frustration of the home fans – who were turning quite vocal in their disapproval.
As the first-half progressed Fulham started to work the ball further up the pitch and looked to bring Zamora into the game more – but this was not done to the sacrifice of Fulham’s defensive structure.
Just as Sunderland started to threaten through Kenwyne Jones and Darren Bent, Fulham slowed the tempo of the game right down – with the ball spending a lot of time being passed around the back four and Mark Schwarzer. The wind was soon taken out of Sunderland’s sails.
The home side’s first shot in anger came on 37 minutes when the ball fell to Jones 25 yards out – the Sunderland striker lined up a fierce volley which flew handsomely over Mark Schwarzer’s bar. Darren Bent’s 20-yard free-kick on 39 minutes almost created an opening when the ball bounced off Schwarzer’s chest before being cleared to safety.
Once again a crescendo of noise echoed around the Stadium of Light as the home fans sensed a breakthrough could be coming. But surely enough, Fulham soon closed up shop and sucked the energy out of Sunderland’s play.
The Whites made a strong start to the second-half, with Bobby Zamora battling well with John Mensah up front. The home side’s first effort on goal after the break came in the 56th minute when Alan Hutton found space on the edge of the Fulham area only to shoot straight at Schwarzer.
Fulham’s first change of the game came on 57 minutes when Danny Murphy was replaced by Jonathan Greening. With conditions in the Stadium of Light hardly conducive to fine, flowing football, Fulham were certainly adapting better to their environment as they resolutely maintained their shape.
John Mensah was given a talking to by the referee on 64 minutes after the official had seen one too many of his tussles with Zamora. The free-kick for Fulham that followed was cut out and the home side broke away on the counter, but much to the frustration of the home fans, the move broke down once again.
For the first time in the game Fulham embarked on a sustained spell of pressure, keeping the ball well and stringing together a number of passes which had the home side chasing shadows.
As time started to tick away, Sunderland replaced Kenwyne Jones with Benjani in an attempt to get something from the game. The change certainly gave the home side some much-needed impetus as a ball from Zenden flashed dangerously across the face of the Fulham goal.
David Elm was introduced to the action on 83 minutes, replacing Bobby Zamora who had led the line bravely.
Sunderland managed to work shooting opportunity on 86 minutes when the ball dropped to the feet of Frazier Campbell on the edge of the area but his shot flew well over Schwarzer’s bar. Moments later Benjani’s turn and shot rolled just in front of Darren Bent, who could do little to reach it. That proved to be the final oportunity of the encounter before the referee blew for full-time.