Head Coach René Meulensteen couldn’t hide his disappointment after seeing Fulham suffer a heavy defeat against relegation rivals Sunderland.
The Whites started brightly but were stunned when Adam Johnson curled home a free-kick which David Stockdale could only get a hand to.
Ki Sung-Yueng then made it 2-0 before half-time when he fired home Johnson’s pull-back from a free-kick. Steve Sidwell gave the Whites hope early on in the second half with a header, but Johnson then scored twice, including a late penalty, to send Sunderland to victory.
“They put a free-kick away and then it got worse when we conceded a second from another free-kick,” said Meulensteen. “It gave us a mountain to climb in a game we know we needed to win against a team around us in the table.
“I think the first goal was saveable. He [Stockdale] got his hands to it but didn’t have enough power to push it over the bar rather than in. Their third was the defining moment. We were attacking, they broke on the counter and credit to Sunderland, they took the chance. Then at 4-1, you sit here very disillusioned.”
Fulham had opportunities early on; Dimitar Berbatov lost his footing and put a Sascha Riether cross wide, while Adel Taarbt forced Vito Mannone into a good save.
“These are the chances you have to take,” said Meulensteen. “It was a quality cross [from Riether]. Adel had a chance when he maybe could have squared it, but it was a quality save as well. If you get your noses in front, it’s a lot easier.”
The result means Fulham have now conceded 46 goals in the Barclays Premier League – the highest in the division by some distance.
“We keep working on it and it needs to improve, it’s as simple as that,” mused Meulensteen. “In home games especially, you can’t afford to go behind. We were dominating the game and looked quite comfortable and then you’re back peddling.
“We know we have a challenge on our hands. We didn’t think for one moment we’d turned a corner. It’s so tight down there – if we’d won we could have gone up to 13th. That’s why you have to take it game by game and address the situation and pick up points whenever you can. In general, the performances have improved. But the quality into the final third and conceding is a problem.”
Sunderland’s first two goals both stemmed from debatable free-kicks and Meulensteen added: “The first one was a bit of a softie. We said in our team-talk, be careful giving away free-kicks in dangerous areas as in Johnson and Sebastian Larsson, they’re dangerous at set-pieces. The second one was even more disappointing; we know they can pull something out of a hat like that and we got punished for it.”