FFC team: Stekelenburg, Riether, Hangeland, Hughes, Richardson, Taarabt, Sidwell, Boateng, Duff, Kasami, Berbatov— Fulham Football Club (@FulhamFC) August 17, 2013
Honestly, who saw that coming? Ruiz not starting was expected. He traveled 9000 miles this week and already played 76 minutes in hot weather midweek. Kacaniklic was going to need to pass a fitness test to be able to go, and obviously he didn't. But where's Dejagah? Where's Amorebieta? Twitter reports they were injured, but I don't remember anyone talking about it in advance. This lineup did give a chance for some new players to shine with Taarabt and Kasami playing big roles from the start.
The formation didn't play like expected. In the first 20 minutes Kasami was often the highest player. It seemed to be more of a 4-3-3 with Taarabt, Kasami, and Berbatov doing a lot of switching. Duff, Boateng, and Sidwell were more of a midfield three.
Fulham did well to absorb all the energy Sunderland had early, and just when you thought the came might settle in a little, one of Kieran Richardson's glass hamstrings decided to break. That brought on Matthew Briggs. So much for the loans of Kasami and Briggs. Shortly after that, Boateng picked up his first of what will probably be many yellow cards. This seemed to give Sunderland another boost of energy over the next 10 minutes. They created quite a few dangerous opportunities with Fulham barely able to break out of their own end. Steekelenburg was required to make a highlight real save in the 36th minute leading to a series of Sunderland corners. But Fulham stood strong, and even mounted a bit of pressure of their own near the end of the first half.
The second half opened up much like the first, but in the 52nd minute Patjim Kasami was able to get free for a header on a beautiful ball by Duff to put Fulham ahead 1-0. Watching Kasami celebrate by thanking Jol for the faith he put in him was quite wonderful.
After the goal, Sunderland once again unleashed a ball of attacking energy. Unleashing quite a few dangerous attacks that Fulham were barely able to turn away. Altidore in particular had a couple of great opportunities that were just the kind that he put away for the US.
Jol made his second change bringing on Karagounis for Boateng. Normally I'd want to keep the more defensive player on the field, but in this case I agreed with the decision as Boateng was in constant danger of picking up a second yellow. Plus it gave us an opportunity to see more of Karagounis rolling around on the ground. Though in this case the challenge really did look painful.
In the 74th minute Sunderland had another great opportunity with Steekelenburg forced to make another great save. Unfortunately, he appeared to injure his shoulder during the play. From the landing; it looked like it could have been a dislocation, a separation, or worst of all a broken clavicle. He was forced to come off for Stockdale, and we can only hope the injury isn't too bad. Thankfully it happened before a possible Bent substitution. I can't imagine what they would have done if they were out of subs.
The last 15 minutes were the same nervy Fulham I remember from last year. Playing everyone behind the ball and clinging to a one goal lead. Threatening to give me a heart attack at any moment. But they were able to hold on and get their first victory, plus their first clean sheet.
Final impressions: Not a victory to remember, but a win away from home is always good. Especially when you are forced to make two subs for injury. I thought Briggs looked poor with his 1v1 defending in the first half, though he looked ok in attack. He was much improved in the second half, keeping Adam Johnson much more under control. I thought Stockdale looked fine in his brief minutes. Hopefully Steekelenburg won't be gone that long, but Stockdale isn't the worst backup to have. I saw a few glimpses of some beautiful football between Taarabt and Berbatov. I think that these two (and especially when Ruiz is back) might pull out a few special things. The biggest impression I had though was of Patjim Kasami. He was my man of the match. His goal was great, but I thought his all around play was quite good. He didn't do much wrong for me this match and proved that he can play at this level.