Fulham manager Martin Jol had his hands tied, being forced to use two substitutes on injuries, but his side pulled out a solid result thanks to Pajtim Kasami’s header at the start of the second half from the Stadium of Light.
Sunderland started the better side early, with their midfielders pressing hard and earning lots of possession in the beginning. Cabral fired in a searching shot in the first five minutes. Fulham found its footing slowly though, and by the 15th minute the two teams were going back and forth.
Injury-prone Kieran Richardson did his hamstring in the 18th minute, and Matthew Briggs came on to replace the injured left-back.
Cabral again fancied a shot from outside the top of the box in the 26th minute but it fizzed wide right. The Black Cats regained control of possession late in the first half, but Jozy Altidore was still working to get involved. He found himself an opening in the box in the 32nd minute but Jack Colback’s cross flew just barely over his head and was dealt with by the Fulham defense.
Altidore in the second half continued to try and link up with Emanuele Giaccherini. The Italian came over to Sunderland from Juventus, and put the ball into some dangerous areas for Jozy. If the two can get on the same page, it will make the Sunderland attack very dangerous this season.
Fulham finally opened the scoring in the 52nd minute when Pajtim Kasami locked onto a corner from Damien Duff and struck it past Kieren Westwood. Kasami beat Sunderland defender Valentin Roberge in the air to get a head on the ball far post.
Sunderland responded well after the goal, and began to pepper the Fulham box. Altidore won a free kick on the edge of the box after a foul by Fulham captain Brede Hangeland, but Adam Johnson put the free kick into the wall.
Martin Jol would have been hoping to be able to bring on Darren Bent late to add some punch, but instead goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg collided with Altidore and hurt his shoulder, forcing Jol to use his third and final substitute on his brand new goalkeeper.
Sunderland continued to flood the Fulham box late but Johnson put a great cross wide with his head as regulation time wound down.
It’s an important 3 points for Fulham. The squad has holes, and they’ve struggled away from home in the past, so Jol will be pleased with their bend-but-don’t-break attitude. It’s the Cottagers’ fifth consecutive clean sheet on opening day. Good luck to Sunderland from here. Its next seven fixtures include Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Swansea.
Sunderland: Kieren Westwood; Ondrej Celustka (Connor Wickham, 83′), Jack Colback, John O’Shea, Valentin Roberge; Cabral, Sebastain Larsson, Adam Johnson, Emanuele Giaccherini; Jozy Altidore, Stephane Sessegnon (Ji Dong-Won, 72′).
Fulham: Maarten Stekelenburg (David Stockdale, 76′); Brede Hangeland, Aaron Hughes, Sascha Riether, Kieran Richardson (Matthew Briggs, 20′); Steve Sidwell, Derek Boateng (Giorgis Karagounis, 65′), Adel Taarabt, Damien Duff; Pajtim Kasami, Dimitar Berbatov.
Martin Jol: “Our game is a passing game and if you’re not brave enough to earn the right to play football you struggle a bit. Although we struggled, we still ground out a great result, that’s fantastic.”
Jol: “Most of the time last year we had more possession than the opponent and today we couldn’t do that, so we need to work on a few things and hopefully can do that in the next couple of days.”
Paolo Di Canio: “We weren’t really ferocious. We have to be nasty in terms of our football. I don’t want to say we had a clear identity but a big part of the puzzle is clear. I think we did well but it’s obvious we can do much better.”