Not just back-to-back wins, back-to-back 3-0 wins. How about that? And one of them was away. These are heady times we live in.
Sunderland looked like a team with no forwards and no interest. When you play against a midfield containing Cattermole and Henderson you expect to have a battle on your hands, but according to the BBC Sunderland committed precisely one foul in the whole of the first half. Fulham had it easy, and on another day might have had more.
Hughes picked an interesting side, electing to use Zamora and Gudjohnson as a two man hold-up gang, perhaps reasoning that their excellent interplay skills would be worth trying as a partnership. With Dempsey left at home with a hamstring tweak, Gael Kakuta got a run on the wing. Brede Hangeland was unwell so Philippe Senderos had the unenviable task of slipping into one of the game’s most settled back fives.
All of these moves worked well enough. Zamora and Gudjohnson indeed combined well, and for a time it seemed a pity that we didn’t have Duff and Dempsey steaming in after them to pick up the layoffs. But credit where it’s due, the two wide men we did have played their parts well.
Kakuta scored the first, and I’ll tell you who he reminded me of when he did so: Diego Maradona. That burst into the area, the half-stumble, the balance, the acceleration, the prod. Watch Maradona in 1986, against Belgium or some of his games for Napoli and you’ll see it quite quickly. Not that Kakuta is another Maradona, but that’s who he reminds me of. Put another way, he resembles Maradona more than anyone else I can remember, in style if not in impact. So a great goal for Kakuta (not in the usual great goal sense, admittedly), and while he’s certain to return to Chelsea at the end of the season, we must hope that somehow there’s a way to stop this happening.
The goal may have come slightly against the run of play, but Fulham never really looked troubled and there were chances galore on the break. Gudjohnson was having one of those “he’s good but frustrating” days, where his awareness and positioning got him into some amazing situations, but his lack of pace and surprisingly shaky touch didn’t let him take advantage. Nevertheless, the suspicion is that he’s one of those players who makes teams better regardless of what the naked eye might see, and it’s encouraging that Hughes is giving him a run in the team. It’s worth pointing out, too, that Zamora was having a typically strong game.
The second Fulham goal was a beauty. Sidwell (who was often seen in advanced positions) charged on to a through ball in the inside left channel and turned the ball back infield from the byline. Simon Davies was motoring infield and his run and Sidwell’s cross coincided perfectly, and the ball flew home decisively. What a goal, and a nice reward for Davies’ fine return to the team.
Then he got another. Zamora broke down the right, switched the ball infield, Davies (at full pelt again) bundled around/over the goalkeeper and into the net. Phenomenal stuff from Davies, whose two performances since his return to the side make him all but undroppable.
Intriguing glimpses of what might lie ahead, then. Sunderland were more or less awful in the end, but Fulham beat them with three of our better players missing. The shame is that the early part of the season was so sticky, but transition is unavoidable in these situations, and this is now really starting to feel like Hughes’ team.