Premier League - Fulham break duck at Sunderland
Fulham won their first Premier League away game of the season in style with a comfortable 3-0 victory at Sunderland.
A debut senior goal from Gael Kakuta and a Simon Davies double saw off Steve Bruce’s lacklustre side as the Cottagers eased to only their second league victory outside Craven Cottage this season.
The Whites also used their comfortable mid-table position to effect as they rested the likes of Clint Dempsey and Brede Hangeland; Sunderland, meanwhile, lacked any sort of cutting edge, with the absences of injured forward trio Asamoah Gyan, Danny Welbeck and Fraizer Campbell clear for all to see as they toiled without finding any end product.
Following Wednesday’s 3-0 win over Bolton, Mark Hughes claimed his team were comfortably a top-half side - provided key players kept fit.
And with Bobby Zamora - involved in all three goals - leading the line in style, his men backed him up as squad players such as Kakuta, Eidur Gudjohnsen and debutant Philippe Senderos performed admirably in a controlled team performance.
Sunderland had the better of the first half but the lack of a striker was clear for all to see, little midfielder Stephane Sessegnon playing as a lone forward and too often pulled deep and wide as some brilliant deliveries from Ahmed Elmohammady and Jordan Henderson went to waste.
Sunderland should have taken the lead on the half hour when Senderos, clearly rusty after almost a season out injured, played Steed Malbranque clean through with a rotten clearance: the Frenchman’s finish was wide of the advancing Mark Schwarzer but also the far post.
Fulham had previously mustered some half-chances through Zamora and Eidur Gudjohnsen and they made the hosts pay soon afterwards.
It was mostly thanks to the work of the as-ever excellent Zamora, whose intelligent reverse-flick allowed a one-two with Gudjohnsen: with a deft pass the once-capped England striker sent Kakuta scuttling through, the young Frenchman riding a shove from Michael Turner before slotting a low finish past the otherwise untested Simon Mignolet.
To be fair to the Black Cats they rallied immediately, as Lee Cattermole was sent clean through by Sessegnon only to fire weakly at Schwarzer.
Muntari then saw a first-time effort deflected over, while in first-half stoppage time Henderson mis-hit his shot wide after it opened up on the right.
Fulham were still testy on the break though - for the second time in the half Gudjohnsen fluffed his final ball to Zamora after springing the offside trap as they took a narrow lead into the dressing room.
The second half saw Fulham come at Sunderland more and they were agonisingly close to doubling their lead when Gudjohnsen’s angled, low cross shot fizzed just beyond the sliding Zamora to fly past the far post.
They doubled their lead just after the hour mark and in some style as Zamora’s angled ball down the left was met by a superb run from Steve Sidwell, whose inch-perfect cut-back was rattled in by Davies.
The Black Cats seemed resigned to defeat - a token effort from Muntari particularly unimpressive - and it was 3-0 soon afterwards as Davies bundled home from close range after Turner and Mignolet collided in comic fashion, admittedly thanks to another wonderful ball in from Zamora.
With just under 20 minutes left the home fans left in droves, while Fulham were afforded the luxury of replacing one occasional England striker with another - man-of-the-match Zamora saluted as he made way for Andy Johnson.
They were having fun too - Gudjohnsen firing a spectacular half-volley just wide and Johnson seeing an effort blocked - as the West Londoners stayed ninth but moved to one point behind defeated Bolton.
Sunderland, meanwhile, are all-but safe - 41 points would normally suffice, but defeat at Bolton next weekend would see them left with two relegation six-pointers against Wolves and West Ham to round off a season that started promisingly but fell apart after the sale of Darren Bent.