Sunderland hold Fulham to draw
Sunderland moved into the top six after holding Fulham to their 10th Premier League draw of the season in a goalless stalemate at Craven Cottage.
In a match that only really got going at around the hour mark, both sides had chances to win it but good defending and goalkeeping from Sunderland and poor finishing from both sides saw yet another tie for a Fulham side hovering above the relegation zone on goal difference.
Sunderland’s relatively lofty league position is largely the result of an excellent home record, unbeaten in eight games, but they have been mediocre on their travels and it showed in a tepid first half in which Fulham were little better.
Short on confidence after failing to win in their previous six Premier League matches, Mark Hughes’s Whites were the more progressive side but the ball barely stuck to makeshift striker Diomansy Kamara, supported by Clint Dempsey and Zoltan Gera, who showed the best touches of the half.
On eight minutes USA international Dempsey tested Simon Mignolet with a brilliantly-taken chest-and-volley that the Belgian plucked from under the bar, while later Gera turned two defenders on the edge of the box before finding Dempsey, whose lob fell short.
While Fulham had more possession and the more attractive style, Sunderland were fairly well-marshalled by John Mensah and man-of-the-match Nedum Onuoha, who moved to centre-half after an early hamstring injury to Anton Ferdinand.
The Black Cats were also dangerous on the break as they bypassed the midfield to test an occasionally panicked home defence with their pace and directness.
Their best opportunities fell between the half-hour and the break, as Carlos Salcido in particular looked shaky under pressure while Black Cats strikers Danny Welbeck and Darren Bent should have done better when firing against John Pantsil and heading wide respectively, both after good balls from Jordan Henderson.
Neither side really deserved to be in front though as a muted Craven Cottage sighed into the interval with the score goalless.
Having struggled to either hold the ball up or use his pace to get behind the defence, Kamara was hauled off at the break with Andy Johnson brought on as Hughes continues to rehabilitate the one-time England striker.
Fulham immediately looked brighter, as Andy Johnson hassled defenders into errors and had a hand as Dempsey forced a save from Mignolet with another curler.
That briefly gave them some impetus but, on the break, Fulham have the best chance of the game when on 56 minutes Salcido’s wicked cross beat Mignolet all ends up but also evaded the lunge of Dempsey, a fraction short of converting a tap-in.
Dempsey had a penalty appeal waved away as his shot struck Onuoha on the hand, although it would have been harsh as the former England U21 defender was at point-blank range and had his arms by his side.
Suddenly it was an end-to-end game as Dempsey was denied by a brilliant Onuoha challenge and, from the resultant corner, Mignolet and Lee Cattermole cleared off the line from Andy Johnson and Gera.
The visitors bombed straight down the other end, capitalising on a heavy touch from the poor Salcido on the edge of their box, but - three-on-one - Bent’s pass to put Gyan through was woeful, so wide it almost went for a throw.
Eddie Johnson was brought on to bring more physicality to the Fulham attack and compatriot Dempsey was seeing a lot of the ball, heading straight at Mignolet from a corner and testing the stand-in Sunderland keeper with a low curler from the edge of the box.
And the American was denied a sure goal as he finished Andy Johnson’s cutback only for Ahmed Al-Muhamadi to put in a wonderful last-gasp block.
There was some on-pitch drama as substitute Bolo Zenden was knocked clean out by a Pantsil clearance, Gera coming to the rescue with some first-aid to clear the airways and set him in the recovery position before the medics could blink.
Zenden proved he was able to continue immediately, playing Bent clean through, with the England striker’s blushes spared as his shocking miss was accompanied by a flag-happy linesman.
Five minutes of injury time were signalled with both sides chasing the win as Gera had a vicious effort blocked by the ribcage of Mensah, briefly winded as a result, while Richardson trickled a weak finish well wide after a slick counter from the guests.
But neither side could find a breakthrough as Sunderland moved on to 24 points, one ahead of Bolton who play tomorrow, while the Cottagers lie in 17th place with 16 points after 17 games.