Fulham and Sunderland played out a tight goalless draw at Craven Cottage on Saturday afternoon.
With both sides eager to make their mark, the game got off to a high-tempo start with firm challenges coming with frantic regularity. The Whites dealt well with Sunderland’s congested midfield early on and were able to gain the upper hand with a number of interceptions and neat passes.
Clint Dempsey was the first to fire a shot on target in anger when he attempted a looping volley from 25 yards on seven minutes, bringing a camera-friendly catch from Simon Mignolet.
Steve Bruce’s men were forced into making their first change of the afternoon on 10 minutes when central defender Anton Ferdinand pulled up with a hamstring complaint. He was replaced by Ahmed Elmohamady.
Darren Bent’s header wide on the 20 minutes mark proved to be the best attacking moment Sunderland were able to muster in the opening exchanges. The action, for the most part, saw Fulham looking to play probing passes in behind the Black Cats’ defence whilst Steve Bruce’s men looked to hit Fulham on the counter-attack. Clear cut chances were few and far between.
A chaotic sequence of events on 30 minutes almost created a dangerous situation for the Fulham defence, thankfully Carlos Salcido managed to clear the danger and allow the Whites’ back line to regroup. But Sunderland finished the first-half stronger.
A penetrative run down the left flank from Phillip Bardsley on 36 minutes allowed the Sunderland fullback to whip in a dangerous cross which was glanced wide by Bent from four yards out.
Andrew Johnson started the second-half in place of Diomansy Kamara, joining up with Zoltan Gera in attack. Johnson’s presence immediately had Sunderland’s back line unsettled, especially when dealing with balls behind the defensive line.
Sunderland introduced Asamoah Gyan on 53 minutes in place of David Meyler, as Steve Bruce looked to lead with two players up front.
Carlos Salcido’s well-placed cross on 55 minutes just evaded the lunge of Clint Dempsey as Fulham upped their attacking efforts. Moments later a cross from Dempsey had the Sunderland defence at odds with each other again. Mignolet missed the punch, instead connecting with the face of Dickson Etuhu who needed a few minutes of treatment before continuing.
The Whites almost forced the ball over the line on 68 minutes after Simon Davies’ corner caused mayhem in the penalty area. From the goalmouth scramble that ensued Andrew Johnson saw his snapshot saved by the feet of Mignolet before Gera’s follow-up shot was forced wide.
Mark Hughes made his final two substitutions of the match. Eddie Johnson came on for Dickson Etuhu, joining Andrew Johnson in attack whilst Chris Baird replaced Carlos Salcido.
A frantic spell of action on 79 minutes saw Clint Dempsey’s shot apparently charged down in the area by the arm of a Sunderland player before Gera was pulled back on the edge of the area. Gera’s free kick was routinely caught by Mignolet.
Bolo Zenden needed a lengthy spell of treatment on the pitch after catching a powerful John Pantsil clearance in the face. However, the Dutch midfielder recovered sufficiently to almost play Darren Bent through on goal; fortunately Bent had just strayed offside - ending the danger.
Both sides desperately searched for a late winner in the five minutes of added time, but neither was able to find the net.