Kenwyne Jones celebrated signing a new four-and-a-half year contract by firing Sunderland to a precious 1-0 victory over Fulham at the Stadium of Light. The Trinidad and Tobago striker struck ten minutes after the interval to deliver three points that enabled the Black Cats to establish a five-point cushion between them and the relegation zone.
Sunderland welcomed George McCartney back into the starting line-up for the first time since November following his recovery from surgery on both feet. But the warmest applause was reserved for Jones, who had put pen to paper on his new deal earlier in the day despite firm interest from Tottenham.
It was the visitors who made the more lively start and Sunderland had reason to be grateful to centre-back Anton Ferdinand for some important interceptions before Djibril Cisse fired the home side's first chance narrowly wide. Fulham responded immediately through Andrew Johnson, who tested Marton Fulop with a left-foot volley, and Simon Davies should at least have hit the target after finding himself with a good shooting opportunity on the edge of the area.
Cisse forced Mark Schwarzer into a good save midway through the opening half and the Australian international produced an even better effort to frustrate Jones ten minutes from the break.
Clint Dempsey screwed Fulham's best chance of the opening half wide of the target and Jones ensured the visitors paid the price of his waywardness ten minutes after the restart.
Schwarzer did well to palm away a shot from Cisse but Jones reacted faster than the Fulham defenders and was able to smash the rebound in from close range. That knocked the stuffing out of Fulham and only more heroics from Schwarzer prevented Steed Malbranque from quickly doubling Sunderland's lead.
Fulham's best chance of an equaliser fell to Davies, who lifted an inviting knockdown from Dempsey over the bar. There was still time for Schwarzer to produce a stunning stop from point-blank range to deny Malbranque but, in the end, one goal proved enough for Sunderland.