Today’s game had been built up as a must win from both Roy Keane and his players. After two fantastic performances on the road against Arsenal and West Ham we couldn’t be blamed for expecting much of the same, though with three points as opposed to taking nothing from both trips to London. Roy O’Donovan made way for Michael Chopra in the only change from West Ham.
The lads were slow out of the blocks and their passing was largely poor. This was not looking like the performance we’d expected after having expectations raised in the previous two games. After some slack work at the back between Danny Higginbotham and Craig Gordon the ball fell to David Healy 20 yards out, the Fulham striker had an open goal to aim at though fortunately he dragged his shot wide. After ten minutes we’d had a glimpse of things to come from the lads.
Although we had some decent passages of play in the first half, particularly through Halford’s determination to get forward and whip in some fine balls, we never looked like putting Niemi under any pressure. From the off Fulham looked like they wanted it more than us, there were always two Fulham players closing down one of the lads and their work rate was second to none. It was easy to see which team was an established Premier League club. One distinct feature of the Fulham team was that they had a lot of Premier League experience in their team, something which we’re greatly lacking.
After 30 minutes Fulham’s hard work paid off. Simon Davies punished Craig Gordon, for some quite frankly shocking positioning, by curling in a 30-yard free-kick. Unfortunately the goal wasn’t the wake up call I was hoping for after a shocking performance for the majority of the first half.
Half time: 0-1, attendance: 39,392
Thankfully the second half started better than the first, though we still weren’t creating too many good chances. Fulham were beginning to sit back and invite the pressure onto themselves, the problem was we couldn’t find the killer pass. Matters got a lot worse for the lads when Greg Halford was sent off for a second bookable offence which was a big blow as he’d been playing quite well going forward. Grant Leadbitter could have levelled the scores when he broke into the box and faced Niemi one-on-one, unfortunately though Leadbitter’s shot was straight at the Fulham ‘keeper. The crowd were beginning to get behind the lads and it was evident that it was making a big difference, however it felt as though it was going to be one of those days.
Our luck changed five minutes before the end when Kenwyne Jones headed Leadbitter’s sublime left wing cross into the top corner. With five minutes added on the sound level cranked up another notch. Anthony Stokes could and should have won the game for us, with two minutes of injury time left Stokes was put clean through, however the Irish striker scuffed his shot at Niemi and no Sunderland player was on hand to convert the rebound.
This was yet another example of our lack of experience and quality. Although I doubt Roy Keane would admit it publically I’m almost certain he’s aware that some of his buys simply aren’t up to scratch. We’re certainly lacking Premier League quality which no doubt Keane will look to change in the January transfer window, though at this point it seems a long way off.
Too many players weren’t at the races in the first half and also parts of the second half, if this performance is repeated against better opposition we will no doubt be taught a very harsh lesson in football.