Sometimes you just get a feeling about games. Just when you think things are going well, there’s a nasty surprise around the corner. In this case the nasty surprise came in the form of Sunderland, a spluttering version of their former selves, Martin O’Neill more or less failing to ignite his expensiveish team to the point where until very recently only one person – Stephen Fletcher – had actually scored for them. But what Sunderland have is a bit of midfield bite, terrors down the flanks, and the fortune to be playing Fulham on a dark Sunday when bad vibes were everywhere. So yes, sometimes you just know. I put my money where my mouth was and placed a hefty £4 on a Sunderland win, cashed out at half-time when the score was 0-0 but when Brede Hangeland’s sending off had placed Fulham’s game in jeopardy.
It was just one of those games. Sunderland aren’t all that and with 11 men I’m sure my bad vibes would have ended up being misplaced, but as it was we didn’t have 11 because Brede Hangeland became a victim of the current “thou shalt not tackle” dictum. Yes, he left his feet, but only so he could execute a tackle on the half-way line that wasn’t exactly perfectly timed but which did win the ball. The referee’s red card brought disbelief from Hangeland and indeed everyone else. Martin Jol stood up from his bench, for example.
Fulham nearly went ahead anyway, John-Arne Riise shot across goal and hit the bar via a deflection, but this was a problem in the making. With 10 men our covering options were perhaps diminished and nobody had taken Riise’s place. Sunderland broke, Senderos gestured behind him to nobody and ended up covering two people but nobody, a great pass took him out and Fletcher scored easily at the far post. Harsh on Fulham.
But an equaliser came, Duff teeing up the lively Petric for a well taken equaliser. Petric came on when the influential Ruiz was removed with an injury, and made the most of his chance. He’s become a bit of a forgotten man what with everything, but showed phenomenal skill on a number of occasions. We ought to find a way to make the most of his talents, and he should certainly have taken more of the free-kicks we kept winning. Rodallega seems no better than Riise at these, but still positions himself as one of the go-to-people when there’s a shot on.
Sunderland went back ahead with a Cuellar header from another set piece, Steve Sidwell underlining a miserable game for him by not getting close enough to the goal scorer (and doesn’t that feel like a strange marking assignment?).
Sidwell. I watch Berbatov with interest. Does he feel his team-mates are good enough? Who does he work well with? Ruiz, Duff, anyone really. But his every interaction Sidwell seemed to end in disappointment. I exaggerate, and credit to Sidwell for getting into a few good situations, but it just wasn’t happening. A missed chance in either half following some Berbatov genius was the biggest issue, and could have made the game quite different. But again, credit Sidwell for making the right runs.
Stephane Sessegnon, who apparently has been pretty terrible this season, scored a screaming third to sort it all out once and for all, a wonderful fading drive that Schwarzer couldn’t get near.
3-1, and that was that. It was an unfortunate defeat for Fulham but not one that holds any great meaning in the big scheme of things: just one of those things.