At the final whistle of Fulham’s 3-1 defeat at home to Sunderland, there was an overwhelming feeling of disappointment and a good opportunity spurned at Craven Cottage etched all over Martin Jol’s face.
After a good run of form that had seen the Cottagers unbeaten in their last five matches, taking impressive points against Everton and away at Arsenal in their last Premier League encounter, where they arguably deserved to win, victory over a struggling Sunderland side was very much expected.
Indeed, three points would have taken Fulham level on points with the Gunners in sixth position with 19 points, only four behind the surprise occupiers of the fourth Champions League spot, West Brom, and above London rivals Tottenham after their big defeat at Arsenal on Saturday.
Watchers of the first-half will have seen a Fulham side take the game to their opponents, dominating proceedings and deserving of at least a single-goal lead, with Dimitar Berbatov yet again proving his enduring class. However, then came the correct decision to send off captain Brede Hangeland for a poor tackle on Lee Cattermole – whether there was much contact with the player or not – and after that the belief seemed to drain out of the home side, particularly after Sunderland took the lead through the predatory Steven Fletcher early in the second half.
Even a Fulham equaliser through Mladen Petric never really looked like being enough to keep a suddenly vibrant Sunderland side at bay, although it certainly did not help Martin Jol’s men that the Croatian striker injured himself in the process of scoring the equaliser, meaning that the home side were briefly down to nine men for a period that saw Sunderland re-take the lead through Carlos Cuellar.
Thus, the disappointment was clear for all to see on the banks of the River Thames and perhaps it is just an indication that for all of Fulham’s quality on the pitch, particularly through Berbatov, they continue to just lack that extra edge to truly trouble the big boys at the top of the table.
The sending off of Hangeland in particular will grate on Jol. The Fulham skipper has been in poor form throughout the start to his season and one would have expected someone of his experience to be less forceful to say the least with his tackle on Cattermole, which was only likely to ever lead to one decision from referee Lee Probert.
Indeed, with two away games to come at notoriously strong home sides in Stoke and Chelsea, Jol may well look back to this Sunderland game as a hugely vital one for his side, one that with victory could well have spurred a European charge but instead has possibly condemned the Cottagers to a season of mid-table mediocrity, but relative safety, once again.
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