Sunderland 0-0 Fulham: Pressure increases on Steve Bruce after hosts produce disappointing display
The Black Cats boss saw his side leave the field to a chorus of boos, as the hosts fail to get three points from what the 50-year-old had described as a must-win game
By Alfie Meekings
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce is under increasing pressure after his side could only manage a goalless draw with Fulham at the Stadium of Light on Saturday, despite hitting the crossbar twice in the first 15 minutes.
The absence of suspended Sebastian Larsson saw Kieran Richardson move to a more advanced role for the hosts, with Phil Bardsley stepping in to replace him at full-back. Stephane Sessegnon dropped into a wide position out on the left-hand side to give the Black Cats a five-man midfield, with lone striker Nicklas Bendtner leading the line.
Steven Sidwell was missing for the Cottagers after a midweek hernia operation, giving Dickson Etuhu his third start of the season in midfield. Martin Jol was also forced to make some drastic changes in defence, with the absence of the injured Zdenek Grygera and John Arne Riise, who flew home after his wife gave birth last night. Philipe Senderos and Aaron Hughes stepped in for the away side.
The first real chance of the match fell to the visitors during the first few minutes of the match, with want-away striker Moussa Dembele showing great skill on the edge of the area to beat two Sunderland defenders before striking straight at Black Cat’s reserve keeper Keiren Westwood.
Minutes later, Sessegnon showed great ability in the wide role he has been given by Bruce in recent weeks, managing to beat Hughes to chip a ball to the near post for Richardson, who directed a clever header onto the angle of the away side’s goal.
The hosts began to dominate possession in the midfield and repeatedly looked to threaten the Cottagers’ defence. Jack Colback beat the offside trap after a neat pass by Bendtner, but the young midfielder failed to find Sessegnon at the far post, with Mark Schwarzer gathering his attempted pass.
The home side then hit the crossbar for the second time in the opening 15 minutes. Egyptian winger Ahmed Elmohamady whipped a ball in to the far post, and Colback closed down Hughes’ attempted clearance. The 22-year-old smashed a shot towards goal, which rattled the crossbar.
Although the first half was largely dominated by the home side, Martin Jol’s men began to pile the pressure on in the run-up to half-time, with two chances in quick succession minutes before the whistle. The first came from a corner which found Bobby Zamora’s head, but Bardsley managed to make the block.
Tumbling | A point wasn't good enough for either side's Premier League hopes
A second corner moments later saw Etuhu rise above the Sunderland defence and direct a powerful header towards goal, only for tireless midfielder Lee Cattermole to clear the ball off the line.
The Cottagers continued to pile the pressure on after the restart, and their first chance came after a free-kick was awarded on the edge of the home side’s penalty area. The ball was laid off for Chris Baird to fire in, but Westwood was equal to it, making a smart save low to his right.
Bruce’s men showed resilience to hold off the visitors, and eventually managed to fashion some chances of their own, the best of which fell to Sessegnon. After Schwarzer flapped at a corner, the 26-year-old found the ball at his feet, but with his back to goal he could only manage to fire the ball wide.
The game continued to be a tight affair, with both sides creating half-chances. The first fell to substitute Andy Johnson, who managed to find some space on the right-hand side of the penalty area but shot wide across Westwood.
The ever-impressive Elmohamady then managed to fire in an early cross and find the head of Bendtner, who directed a tame header goalward which Schwarzer gathered with ease.
Fulham had a chance to snatch a win after a Sunderland corner led to a two-on-one counter-attack in favour of the away side. Dembele squared the ball for Clint Dempsey who wastefully fired what was arguably the best chance of the match wide of Westwood’s goal.
In the dying seconds, Sessegnon managed to fashion a shot which took a deflection on its way to goal. Schwarzer got down low to make a fantastic save and keep his side in the match. As the final whistle was blown, the players left the field to a chorus of boos from the home fans.
The result keeps the Black Cats and the Cottagers 15th and 16th respectively in the Premier League table.
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