A dreadful match. One of the worst games I've seen in recent memory. On the day the marvellous statue of Johnny Haynes was finally unveiled, you'd have been hard pressed to find a less fitting game to pay tribute to the Maestro. Crikey, I enjoyed losing to West Ham more than this snooze-fest. The fact that we could feel some relief in claiming a point from the game and the visiting team could justifiably claim they should have taken all three shows how really shocking we were.
During a shockingly poor first half both teams seemed to be struggling to find any spark. The only talking point that still lingers in my memory was a Sunderland freekick a few minutes before the break. Two Fulham players (Hughes & Hangeland?) combined to make what had appeared to be a good tackle, but the referee saw things differently (possibly feeling that two against one was not quite cricket) and awarded the kick in a dangerous position on the edge of the D. Kieran Richardson, who was lively throughout, sent a shot screaming towards Schwarzer's left hand side where it rebounded off the post, over Schwarzer's head, and seemed to nestle in the net on the other side. Except it didn't, it bounced of the right hand post too before eventually settling in Schwarzer's grateful hands (having possibly - if BBC reports are true - hit the left hand post yet again). This all happened almost too fast for my brain and eyes to keep up. Just to add to the humour, as the freekick was struck most of the 4000 strong Black Cat's support, were otherwise engaged chanting at a group of Fulham supporters on the riverside who had clearly done something to upset them. This meant most of them didn't even see the ball hit the first post. As they began to celebrate en-masse, the Fulham end had suddenly realised it hadn't gone in and were able to have a bit of a chuckle at the Wearsiders expense.
The second half began much as the first had ended. Fulham passing the ball neatly but aimlessly, Sunderland defending well and catching us on the break whenever they could. The few chances that were created seemed fall mainly Sunderland's way. Dean Whitehead sent a fierce drive just wide of the Fulham post and Kieran Richardson sent a lob over a scrambling defence only to see the ever reliable Aaron Hughes arrive to save blushes by clearing off the line. Then Kieran Richardson lined up to take another freekick, again on the edge of the penalty area, though slightly further out than his first half attempt. A bit of pushing and shoving between Pascal Chimbonda and the Fulham wall caused the Ref to step in and have a few words. Richardson then sent a rocket of a shot flying past a very static Schwarzer, for what seemed to be the goal to finally break the deadlock. But wait, no, the goal was disallowed, apparently because Chimbonda was backing into the wall. This sort of thing rarely goes our way and I was beginning to wonder whether we were going to use our entire season's luck up on one game.
This did at least finally fire Fulham into some sort of response. We started to attack with more purpose and created a few half-chances to give the home fans a glimmer of hope that we might find a goal to win a game we scarcely deserved too. Dempsey came on for an inconsistent Gera, but then made his first pass an overambitious cross field effort that gave it's intended recipient little chance of reaching. David Healy made his first return to the Cottage (receiving a generous round of applause, which I felt must have rubbed the salt into the wounds of poor Steed Malbranque who had been booed at almost every touch of the ball he made) and it seemed inevitable that he'd pop up to score a late winner. Thankfully this didn't happen, but he did get his head to a ball that fell to Djibril Cisse who smacked a stunning half volley over Schwarzer and almost cracked the cross bar in two (I'm beginning to suspect we might have signed up the goal posts from Reading after their impressive performance against us at the Madjeski last season). The final word in the game fell to Jimmy Bullard, who took a well placed free kick in the dying minutes for what was clearly our last chance to win the game. With a certain inevitability he smacked his effort straight into the middle of the Sunderland wall. This seemed to sum up our day and it wasn't long afterwards that the Ref took pity on us all and blew the final whistle.
There were very few positives to find although we did at least put an end to our four game losing streak. We also managed to pick up a point in a fixture that we'd lost last season. Aaron Hughes worked very hard at the back as did his partner in defence Brede Hangeland. John Paintsil had a shocker, not just defensively, where he was run ragged by a vibrant Richardson, but also going forward where he didn't seem to have complete control over his own feet. I guess we always knew he'd be this type of player, but I've been worried about his performances for a few weeks now. A lot of work to be done on the training field it seems, maybe a full week together will restore that spark to the side we've not really seen since Bolton.
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