Three second-half goals saw Sunderland pick up their first Premier League win in seven attempts at the expense of ten-man Fulham this afternoon, beating the Londoners 3-1. A red card for Fulham captain Brede Hangeland for a rash challenge on Lee Cattermole was the only action of a nervy yet well-contested first half.
A 50th minute goal from Steven Fletcher, the striker's first since the 1-0 win at Wigan in September, opened the scoring before substitute Mladen Petric levelled for the hosts. Sunderland then scored twice within seven minutes of Petric's equaliser, through Carlos Cuellar and Stephane Sessegnon, to pick up only their second win at Craven Cottage in the Premier League era.
Both sides had half chances in the opening exchanges with Dimitar Berbatov and Sebastian Larsson coming close. Fulham boss Martin Jol was then forced into a change as Sweden winger Alex Kacaniklic, brought into the side for Ashkan Dejagah, went off injured after 27 minutes with Hugo Rodallega replacing him.
Hangeland sees red
Things went from bad to worse for Jol as his skipper Hangeland was dismissed moments later for a two-footed lunge on Cattermole. A rare, misplaced pass from Giorgos Karagounis saw Sunderland captain Cattermole take possession and the former Wigan man looked to take on Hangeland before being caught by the Norway international and referee Lee Probert showed no hesitation in producing the red card.
But the hosts were still attacking with ten men and came close through Berbatov yet again before the break. Hughes stepped in to take possession of a sloppy Sunderland pass and played a perfect through-ball into the former Manchester United forward whose shot across goal flew just wide.
Fulham started the second half the strongest of the two sides despite their numerical disadvantage. Berbatov continued to pull the strings and Jol's side almost took the lead after 49 minutes when John Arne Riise's cross was deflected by Phil Bardsley onto the crossbar with Mignolet beaten.
Sunderland take advantage
The visitors were ahead moments later as Adam Johnson's perfectly weighted pass found Fletcher rushing through on Mark Schwarzer's goal and the Scotland international made no mistake as he slid he ball calmly into the corner of the goal.
Fulham were hit by a second injury and when Bryan Ruiz pulled up right in front of the home dugout, forward Petric was the man chosen to replace him. The Black Cats were not dominating proceedings as they would have hoped against ten men but came close to a second goal as Johnson's 25-yard effort forced a decent save from Schwarzer.
The open nature of the game meant that Fulham were always going to create chances and they finally took one just after the hour as Duff just stayed onside and took advantage of a static Sunderland defence to find Petric, who finished past Mignolet to level the game.
Fulham's bad luck continued as Petric had to leave the pitch to receive treatment and Sunderland took full advantage against nine men to regain the lead just two minutes after being pegged back. Larsson floated in a corner that was headed beyond the outstretched hand of Schwarzer by Cuellar for the Spaniard's first goal for the club.
The points were secured five minutes later with Sunderland's third goal. The visitors broke forward at pace and went 3-1 up after a fantastic individual effort from Sessegnon as the Benin international cut in from the left before arrowing an unstoppable effort past Schwarzer.
Fletcher, who was passed fit for the game after being a doubt with a calf problem, thought he had scored a fourth with 15 minutes to go but he was correctly flagged offside as he slotted home Johnson's cross.
Fulham had both Rodallega and Berbatov playing in midfield roles and the latter freed Steve Sidwell but Mignolet was quickly off his line to stop his effort. The Belgian goalkeeper was also on hand to produce a marvellous save to deny Petric a second goal with just over six minutes to go.