Premier League - Fulham frustrate Sunderland
Sunderland were left to rue missed chances after being held to a 0-0 draw by Fulham at the Stadium of Light in the Premier League.
Twice early on the Black Cats struck the frame of the goal, but despite having the better of the match, they could not find a goal.
But deep into injury time it took a fabulous improvised save from Mark Schwarzer, on his 450th Premier League appearance, to deny Sunderland the win courtesy of Stephane Sessegnon's deflected shot.
The two sides, who shared identical records of two wins, four draws and five defeats in the Premier League so far this season, remain locked low down the table in 15th and 16th places.
Sunderland welcomed back Ahmed Elmohamady into the midfield with Connor Wickham an absentee from the side which lost 1-0 at Manchester United before the international window.
Fulham shuffled their line-up with Zoltan Grygera (cruciate ligaments) and Steve Sidwell (hernia) forced on to the sidelines.
The visitors began brightly, passing the ball well, and creating the best early chance after seven minutes when Damien Duff played in Moussa Dembele, who created space for himself before firing a left-footed effort on target, which Kieren Westwood did well to stop.
But Sunderland’s response was instant, and they had three great chances to take the lead in quick succession.
Two minutes after Dembele’s effort, Kieran Richardson nodded on to the crossbar after Sessegnon’s delicate chipped cross found the left-sided player in space in the penalty area.
Nicklas Bendtner then played in Jordan Colback with a perfectly-judged through ball, only for the young midfielder to dally between shooting and sidefooting the ball across to Sessegnon. In the end he allowed Mark Schwarzer enough time to smother his effort.
And 16 minutes into the match the Black Cats were denied by the woodwork for a second time when Colback blocked a clearance in the penalty area and unleashed a powerful shot which cannoned off the bar.
At that stage it looked as if the game might be an open, end-to-end affair, but the chances started to dry up.
And Fulham, pleased to have weathered the early Sunderland storm, almost managed to sneak the lead on the stroke of half-time, with Etuhu’s goalbound header cleared off the line by Lee Cattermole defending the near post.
The second half was a similar story, with Fulham again starting the better.
Chris Baird forced a good save from the impressive Westwood with a low hit from distance before the hosts began to impose themselves once more.
The noise in the Stadium of Light went up a level as the crowd sensed the opening goal was near.
Goalmouth scrambles seemed to follow every Phil Bardsley corner, but somehow Fulham survived, with Sessegnon’s low shot from close range the nearest the hosts came.
But try as they might, the goal did not come. Sessegnon, full of tricks and invention on the left hand side, played in several menacing crosses without success.
In a rare defensive lapse with less than five minutes remaining, Dembele and Dempsey should have done better on the counter-attack, with acres of space available. In the end, Dempsey dragged his shot wide of the target.
And it was the Black Cats who finished the stronger, with late substitute Bryan Ruiz lucky not to give away a penalty after clipping Bardsley in the box, and Schwarzer inspired to save with his feet after it looked as if Fulham’s resistance had finally been broken.