A first-half header from Bobby Zamora was enough to hand Fulham all three points at Craven Cottage on Sunday afternoon. The Whites had the best of the first-half, creating plenty of good opportunities. The second-half saw Sunderland came more into the game but the visitors were unable to trouble Mark Schwarzer.
Sunderland got the match underway testing Fulham’s back line with a series of high balls – Aaron Hughes and Brede Hangeland stood up well to the early attempts to unsettle them. The first shot of the game came on three minutes when Steed Malbranque found himself with the ball at his feet inside the area and hit a low shot which was well saved by Schwarzer.
The Whites took the lead on seven minutes when Bobby Zamora showed good strength to hold off his marker and head John Pantsil’s cross past Martin Fulop from six yards.
The Whites were certainly looking dangerous in attack and a nice passing move between Dempsey and Nevland almost put Duff through on target, unfortunately the Irish winger slightly over-ran the ball.
The Black Cats’ primary means of attack continued to be the straight ball up to Kenwyne Jones, but the Sunderland man was often up against opponents of equal aerial ability in the centre of Fulham’s defence -and when he dropped short Chris Baird, who is no stranger to aerial battles, also provided sufficient resistance to put Jones off his stride.
As the first-half progressed neither side created much in the way of gilt-edged chances but the Whites looked comfortable with the ball in the opposing half and wonderful piece of quick passing play on 27 minutes saw Dempsey hit a shot on the turn just over the woodwork.
The Craven Cottage faithful had certainly been whipped up into a frenzy following the booking of Erik Nevland for an apparently innocuous challenge on Anton Ferdinand.
Sunderland had a narrow escape on 36 minutes when a Jonathan Greening corner was flicked across the face of goal by Bobby Zamora – Hangeland and Nevland could only watch as the ball flew past. The chance was indicative of the trouble the Sunderland back line was having in dealing with Zamora in the air.
Paul Konchesky raced past Malbranque on 41 minutes to send a precision cross into the box, Zamora rose well only to see his header bounce down off the crossbar and away to safety.
The chances started to flow for Fulham and Nevland was next to try his luck after Dempsey clipped a pass into the area after seeing his free kick cannon back off the wall. The ball fell to Nevland whose first attempt was saved by Fulop, the ball came back to the Norwegian striker but he got underneath it and sliced the follow-up over the bar.
The Whites got the second-half underway attacking the Hammersmith End as the rain started to teem down.
Fulham wasted little time in getting back into their attacking rhythm as an extended piece of possession early in the second-half had the Fulham fans applauding with appreciation. Clint Dempsey saw a low shot go just wide as the Whites peppered the Sunderland goal.
Mark Schwarzer had to be alert on 55 minutes when Kenwyne Jones anticipated a short back pass from Paul Konchesky only to have his shot well smothered by the alert Fulham stopper.
That opportunity sparked Sunderland’s best spell of the match and Darren Bent was twice presented with good opportunities but on both occasions he failed to hit the target.
A searching diagonal ball from Paul Konchesky on the hour mark found Zamora on the edge of the Sunderland area, the striker did well to nod the ball down to Nevland who took a touch before volleying over the bar. It was Fulham’s 13th attempt on goal.
Steve Bruce’s men continued to increase in confidence as Fulham were forced to doggedly defend the edge of their area.
Erik Nevland was replaced by Zoltan Gera on 66 minutes, Gera went straight up front to partner Zamora. Sunderland made a change of their own three minutes later, replacing Steed Malbranque with Frazier Campbell as they looked to boost their attacking options.
Zamora certainly bore the brunt of a sometimes overly physical Sunderland back line. The Fulham front man was finally awarded a free kick when Nyron Nosworthy and Michael Turner combined to bring the striker down.
A nasty clash of heads between Dempsey and Nosworthy resulted in the Sunderland substitute leaving the pitch for an extended spell as the Black Cats’ medical team patched up his head wound.
With Sunderland back to eleven men, the heat was soon back on the Fulham back line and Schwarzer was once again called upon to alleviate the pressure with some fine catches - allowing Fulham to see out the remaining minutes and claim three more points.