Fulham 1 Sunderland 0
Fulham 1 Sunderland 0 MARTINA Navratilova made a guest appearance at Craven Cottage yesterday at the invitation of her close friend, Sunderland owner Ellis Short. In one respect, the Black Cats were reminiscent of the tennis legend they failed to put the ball in the net. But in every other respect, Sunderland were the complete antithesis of the multiple Grand Slam champion. When Navratilova was winning a record number of Wimbledon titles in southwest London, she displayed spirit and skill in abundance. The Wearsiders, on the other hand, were found lacking on both counts as they slumped to their sixth away defeat out of eight Premier League matches this season. It is a record that continues to gnaw at Sunderland's players, management and support, but despite a succession of harsh words in the wake of previous defeats on the road, it is not one that appears to be any nearer to being resolved. Save for a 20-minute spell at the start of the second half, Sunderland were every bit as limp, soft-centred and ineffective as they had appeared at the likes of Burnley, Bimingham and Wigan earlier this season. In the first half in particular, they were awful, and for all that home wins over the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool have raised expectations on Wearside, the Black Cats' away form is more representative of a side in the bottom third than one harbouring ambitions of qualifying for Europe. Their manager, Steve Bruce, has tried a number of things to change his side's fortunes away from the North-East, but as yet, nothing has had a positive outcome. Indeed, apart from a brief second-half period when Sunderland threatened to grab an undeserved equaliser, yesterday's away display was the worst of the lot. Formations do not make any difference, with yesterday's 4-4-2 proving every bit as ineffectual as the 4-5-1 that lined up at the DW Stadium. Attitude has also been an issue on the road, with the lack of application displayed in a number of away games standing in marked contrast to the frenzied commitment that has characterised the majority of Sunderland's performances at the Stadium of Light. Lorik Cana raised the issue in the wake of last weekend's defeat at the Wigan, asking his team-mates to be tougher, but the captain's words clearly went unheeded. It is hard to imagine anything more soft than the defending that contributed to Fulham's opener in the seventh minute yesterday. The warning signs had been there moments earlier, with Phil Bardsley and Michael Turner completely misreading a hopeful long ball from Paul Konchesky and enabling Fulham striker Erik Nevland to emerge with possession. But if that was sloppy, the duo's subsequent aberration less than 60 seconds later was suicidal. John Pantsil slung over a cross from the right, and with Turner and Bardsley both rooted to the spot, Bobby Zamora stole between the static centre-halves to direct a simple header past Marton Fulop. So much for Bruce's new approach' to life on the road. Defensively, Sunderland failed to cope with Zamora's aerial presence throughout, and the danger of playing Kieran Richardson at left-back was exposed whenever Fulham's leading striker pulled towards the flank. Time and again, Zamora won the ball in the air and knocked it down to one of his colleagues. Richardson suffered the most, but each and every Sunderland defender failed to display the strength required to knock the former West Ham striker out of his stride. With the likes of Damien Duff and Clint Dempsey profiting from Zamora's knock-downs, Fulham completely dominated the opening 45 minutes to the extent that Sunderland's players must have been relieved to reach the sanctity of the dressing room at halftime trailing by only one goal. They survived two serious scares in the final three minutes of the first half, as their opponents effectively camped out in Sunderland's defensive third. The first was yet another result of Zamora's aerial dominance, with the Fulham forward comprehensively outjumping Turner to reach Konchesky's left-wing cross. His header looped over Fulop, but rebounded to safety off the crossbar. Sunderland's Hungarian goalkeeper was helpless on that occasion, but he produced an excellent save two minutes later to keep his side in the game. Clint Dempsey's chip released Nevland in the penalty area, but the Norwegian shot at Fulop's legs as the shot-stopper closed him down. Even more profligately, he then proceeded to blaze the rebound over the crossbar when a prone Fulop would have been powerless to keep a goalbound effort out. Sunderland's only two goalbound efforts of the first half came courtesy of Steed Malbranque, and the first in particular underlined why the Frenchman has only scored once since joining the Black Cats 18 months ago. Released down the righthand side by Cana, Malbranque shot weakly at former Middlesbrough goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. Offered a more difficult opportunity from 20 yards on the stroke of half-time, he once again located nothing more dangerous than the Australian's midriff. Schwarzer completed a hattrick of stops nine minutes after the break, but whereas the first two saves had been relatively routine, the third was an excellent effort that denied Sunderland a glorious opportunity of an equaliser. The chance came from nothing, with Konchesky rolling an awful back-pass into his own 18-yard box to provide Kenwyne Jones with a clear run on goal. The Trinidadian attempted to slide a low shot through Schwarzer's legs, but the keeper got down quickly to prevent the ball from squeezing beneath him. In fairness to Sunderland, the miss sparked a lively 20- minute spell in which the lethargy of the first half was replaced by a belated, but still welcome, sense of urgency. In front of Republic of Ireland boss Giovanni Trappatoni, Andy Reid became much more of an influence down his side's left flank, and the winger was integral in setting up a decent opportunity for Darren Bent. The England international swivelled to meet Reid's low cross, but directed his subsequent shot wide of the target. Displaying uncharacteristic wastefulness, Bent also fired a first-time volley past the post as Richardson's overlapping run caught the Fulham defence napping. That, though, was as good as it got, and for the final quarter-of-an-hour, the hosts were able to cruise to the finishing post. She might have suddenly become a Sunderland fan, but even Navratilova would have had to concede that in terms of this match, it was game, set and match to Fulham. Match facts Goals: 1-0: Zamora (7mins, stole between Bardsley and Turner to head home Pantsil's cross from right) Bookings: Richardson (12mins, foul), Nevland (27, foul), Bardsley (90, foul) Referee: Mike Dean (The Wirral) - Fussy and inconsistent, which never makes for a particularly appealing mix 3 Attendance: 23,168 Entertainment: FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer 6; Pantsil 6, Hangeland 7, Hughes 6, Konchesky 7; Duff 6, Baird 5, Greening 6 (Dikgacoi 86mins), Dempsey 7; Nevland 6 (Gera 68mins 5), ZAMORA 8. Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler (gk), Riise, Smalling, Murphy, Seol. SUNDERLAND (4-4-2): 4 Fulop: Wouldn't have been happy with his efforts for the goal, and was also beaten as Zamora hit the bar 4 Bardsley: Was nowhere near Zamora as he scored, and struggled to deal with the high ball throughout 5 Ferdinand: Never looked comfortable, and suffered a first-half injury in a challenge with Nevland 4 Turner: Was also at fault for Zamora's opener and was outmuscled repeatedly in the first half 4 Richardson: His lack of height in the full-back position was exposed on a number of occasions 5 Malbranque: Neat and tidy in possession, but continues to waste too many openings in front of goal 6 CANA: Tackled ferociously throughout, and was one of the few visitors whose attitude couldn't be questioned 5 Henderson: Struggled to exert any kind of influence and is beginning to look like he needs a rest 5 Reid: Fluffed his chance to impress Trappatoni with a number of misdirected crosses 5 Jones: Gave as good as he got in the air, but wasted a golden opportunity following Konchesky's back-pass 5 Bent: Failed to find the target with the two second-half chances that came his way Subs: Nosworthy (for Ferdinand, 30mins): Conceded a succession of free-kicks as he struggled to find his feet early on 4 Campbell (for Malbranque, 70mins) Zenden (for Jones, 74mins) (not used): Carson (gk), Da Silva, Murphy, Healy. MAN OF THE MATCH BOBBY Zamora the Fulham striker caused havoc in the air throughout, and scored the goal that won the game.
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