Saturday ladies and gentleman is what we are all about. Building up the optimism, new signings, money thrown about – a promise of change. Then, the whistle blows and we find ourselves ultimately disappointed once again. Do not let the shadow completely shroud your judgement, yesterday was the beginning of something which could turn out very exciting indeed.
In terms of the positives we really need to look back on a pleasing first half. It was clear the focus would be on the wings and once we were foraging down either side you would often find three Sunderland players – I don’t recall ever seeing that last season. Stephane Sessegnon acted as the third wheel, supporting the winger and fullback with varied attacks.
Variation, something we are certainly not accustomed to. It was very pleasing indeed. Often Adam Johnson and Emanuele Giaccherini would cut inside or Sessegnon would dribble through but we also pumped in 31 crosses into the box. Cabral offered a threat through the middle and had the most efforts on goal with Jozy Altidore utilised as both a battering ram and something to bounce off. I feel like I am describing a superb performance, but we came up against a defensively very apt side and failed to take advantage of our first half display.
In the end we were undone by the archetype ‘perfect’ away performance. We got hit with the old sucker-punch as new boy Valentin Roberge was treated like a boy by the otherwise anonymous Pajtim Kasami. Roberge was never in a position to challenge for the ball and was ultimately bullied out of the aerial dual leaving a simple finish for the Fulham forward. It was the only time in the game that Fulham truly looked like scoring and it was all they needed.
Once the goal had went in, it became even more difficult for Sunderland as Fulham set their stalls out to leave the Stadium of Light with their one goal advantage. It is something as a team they are excellent at and were extremely organised. I would not go as far as saying they had eleven behind the ball, but they certainly showed little adventure going forward – and why would they? We lost our swagger completely. Perhaps we were unlucky to lose if you look at the statistics, maybe we did not deserve to lose, but we did – now let’s learn from it as it’s the big boys who come to the SoL over the coming months. Let’s look at the player performances in a little more detail;
Kieren Westwood - 6
Could not be faulted for the goal if we are being fair, was not tested by Fulham to any real degree.
Ondrej Celustka – 7
It was a fairly decent and consistent debut which could well have been highlighted by a pile-driver - but for Maarten Stekelenburg’s superb stop. Was not particularly spectacular, but solid enough and seemed to win the majority of battles he was involved in.
Valentin Roberge – 6
This certainly would have been higher, but ultimately it was his positional sense from a set piece which cost us the game. That aside, Roberge looked very competent and his ability on the ball is something we are certainly not use to seeing at the back. In the modern game that cannot be underestimated, and with John O’Shea’s lack of any technical ability – maybe he will be essential in Wes Brown’s absence.
John O’Shea – 7
A fairly typical performance from the new captain. Defensively he was very good, but also his distribution was fairly accurate. 87% pass accuracy fairly impressive, but 55% long ball accuracy not so impressive. Keep it on the deck, John.
Jack Colback – 5
Colback seemed a little lost really. He had no discernible link up with Giaccherini and was found himself in the way for much of our attacks down the left. His defence contributions (although not hugely called upon) were not really exsistent as he offered just three tackles, no intercepts or clearances and conceded two fouls.
Cabral – 7
All action performance on his debut. Overall very impressed, passing was accurate if not purposeful. Perhaps more surprisingly, given his reputation, he was our top shooter with five, though non were on target. Fouled more times than he actually tackled – not sure whether to be impressed by that or not!
Sebastian Larsson – 5
Let’s be fair to Seb, he will never make a Premier League standard creative midfielder. As always, full of running and effort but his partner in midfield looked head and shoulders above him in terms of quality. Larsson seemed more influential at the back with two clearances, two shots blocked (the most) and an interception.
Adam Johnson – 8
Of our midfield, Johnson was fairly easily the most impressive, especially in the first half. He looked like the player we thought we had signed and was involved in a lot of everything going forward. Easily topping the key passes list with five he also chipped in with four shots, pumping in twelve crosses and looked to take on his fullback at every opportunity.
Emanuele Giaccherini – 6
Started well but ultimately was well marked out of the game. He had the time to show glimpses of pure class which we all know he has, but he found the going difficult especially second half where his contribution was limited.
Stephane Sessegnon – 5
Sess looked in the mood for the first 25 minutes, Fulham’s defence could not handle him and he left defenders on the deck on a few occasions. After that, he was nowhere to be seen. Whether his head is in a different place given the rumours I am not so sure, overall he was disappointing today but is saved a low score from the opening exchanges.
MAN OF THE MATCH Jozy Altidore – 8
I though Johnson certainly ran him close, but this lad looks a player. Explosive, composed and with some deft touches – he was involved in anything and everything in the final third. His vision seems superb and he moves the ball on quickly where required, holding it up in other circumstances – a very intelligent performance. Four shots on goal and the majority of them he created for himself, he maybe should have ended up with a goal and was guilty of over playing the ball on some occasions. The prospect of him and Steven Fletcher up front is mouth-watering indeed!
Ji Dong-Won – 5
A little surprisingly that he was the player looked to in order to change the game. Perhaps further indication of how highly he is regarded after offers from the Bundesliga were promptly rebuffed during the transfer window. He did not really look match fit, and other than a disappointing miss he contributed very little.
Connor Wickham – 5
Did not really get the time to influence the game too much, though his introduction did add some urgency to the final few moments with no success.