Okay, I know what the score line says. I know what a lot of people are going to insinuate about this match and maybe I'm assuming an awful lot, but I'm prepared to take heat for this stance. Once again, this René Meulensteen side did not deserve to lose all three points.
Adam Johnson was very good - there is little doubt about that - however, from the run of play Sunderland looked generally toothless. They put a few balls into the box early and it certainly could have created a couple of chances but they were handled professionally by Philippe Senderos who, until late in the game, was quite proficient at crashing against the attacking waves sent by Sunderland, winning a team best three aerial duels.
I'm a positive individual and my disposition generally reflects that. The glass is perpetually half full and that at the 78th minute after the third goal was scored, I thought that it was still early enough to grab a draw--if only a couple of those many attempts by our attack could find their way to the back of the net.
Over the course of the match, our Whites managed to create 17 shots. Of those, 8 were created in locations where an average striker would be expected to convert the chance a minimum of 20% of the time. Meaning that based off the chances created, an average striker would have scored two goals.
Unfortunately, Berbatov wasn't the average striker today and certainly didn't play up to his talent. He didn't help the team and didn't help his stock with the likes of Arsenal or any other top clubs that may or may not be possible suitors for him. The Bulgarian forward led the club in shots taken (5) and was followed by Adel Taarabt (3). Between the two however, only a quarter of their shots challenged Vito Mannone.
As much as it's easy to beat up on Taarabt, he managed to do more than just create his own shots, picking up a pitch best 5 dribbles showing off his ability to penetrate the Black Cat defense and also helped create two additional shots with keen passes, or more specifically had 2 key passes in the match. Sascha Riether and Damien Duff were also instrumental in the attack combining for 17 crosses into the box and four key passes.
Look, there are a lot of really frustrating things that surround this match. The set play defense is quite possibly the worst in recent memory in the entire Premier League and it's hard not to be ready to pre-concede goals before the strike has even occurred. But Sunderland hadn't even created a good attempt on goal until the 22' minute mark and then didn't even have a shot on goal from the run of play until Johnson put it through Stockdale's legs for his second goal. It ended up being the only shot on goal from the run of play. Fulham has its holes and we all are well aware of what they are.
Today was a game that could have easily been won 3-2 or drawn 3-3. Instead, Sidwell gets denied a second goal on an amazing follow up on the cross from Riise and rather than getting a well earned goal, the attempt returns empty. I really haven't mentioned Steve Sidwell and it's frankly because I don't know how to comment about his play.
Sometimes I think Sidwell is just an unlucky player who gets called for unfair fouls or gets caught on the wrong end of the stick. Other times, I just think he makes poor tackling decisions and as I said in the comments during the match, you have to understand that if you don't win a tackle you leave yourself to the mercy of the referee and, while that decision was in some eyes bad - he partially did it to yourself.
Maybe that's not entirely fair.
Sidwell has been a very good piece for the Cottagers this season. He's easily been one of the better players and his 5 goals echo his work rate and tireless effort to be in good position. That said, he's not going to put in 10 goals this season and there is a very real need to see someone with a scorer's touch step up.
With that comes the obligatory Clint Dempsey reference. He was very good and I'd love to enter into some hyperbolic statement, I'll hold just hold short and mention there was still rust to his game. I'm sure there will be some fans who take issue with the defensive support given to Riise and all those overlapping attacks, taking note that three of the goals came from the left side partially because of Dempsey and Riise both as there was just poor coverage down the flank.
The defensive problems aside, he absolutely changed the complexion of the midfield. He was tidy on the ball, worked well with Berbatov in a few fun exchanges, and appropriately found Riise on those mentioned overlapping runs. One rough moment was when Dempsey very obviously was frustrated by Taarabt, when at the '25 mark, the attacking midfielder took an awkward/horribly angled shot in lieu of a streaking--and losing his mark--Dempsey, pleading for the ball to be provided.
There was a lot of moaning and groaning that could and probably will come with this match. I know that some supporters strayed from the confines of the Cottage early due to their frustration. There were also some very positive indicators that occurred where we can take heart and know that this is a club that is still much better than they were on the first of December.
There is regression coming in terms of goals being score for and against. There are also some tough opponents that are in fixtures ahead. No worries. We take it a game at a time and we just continue to play like we have and we're going to have opportunities to steal some points from some good clubs.
Keep the faith.