Sunderland's Adam Johnson, left, celebrates his goal against Fulham with teammates during their English Premier League soccer match at Craven Cottage, London, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

Fulham 1-4 Sunderland: Much needed victory gives Black Cats hope (video)

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Clint Dempsey made his return to Craven Cottage today, happily welcomed by Fulham supporters, who showed their appreciation for his five seasons spent at the club. Unfortunately, the Whites couldn’t mark the American’s return with a win, instead floundering when confronted with Sunderland’s well-worked setpieces and quick counterattacks.

For the first 25 minutes, it looked as though the hosts were going to come out on top. Fulham were putting plenty of pressure on the Black Cats, and in the 7th minute, Vito Mannone had to rescue a close range shot from  Dimitar Berbatov, getting on the end of a cross from Adel Taarabt.

Dempsey too, tried to get in on the action, again on the end of a ball from Taarabt. But the attacker’s shot went wide, prompting a counter-attack that set up Sunderland’s first chance of the match.

Shortly before the half-hour mark, the visitors pulled in front. Steve Sidwell fouled Adam Johnson about 25 yards from goal, and the forward stepped up to take the free kick himself. The shot curled in to the top corner of the net and, although David Stockdale was able to get a hand on it, the Fulham keeper couldn’t keep it out.

Fulham’s early spirit seemed broken by the Black Cats’ lead, with the hosts unable to put in another effort on goal. Instead it was Sunderland doubling their lead, off another free kick. This time Johnson sent it back to Ki Sung-Yueng, whose shot wiggled through the Fulham shirts to find the back of the net.

The hosts got themselves back into the match early in the second half. Again, the goal came from a set piece, with Damien Duff sending in the corner. Sidwell was there to nod in, his second in two games and his fifth of the season.

But the goal turned out to be a simple consolation for the hosts. Despite pressure from Fulham as they looked for the equalizer, Sunderland were able to break free with a perfect counterattack. Jozy Altidore, on just a few minutes before, slid the ball over to Ki, who set up Johnson for his second.

Sunderland didn’t stop there, however. In the 85th minute, Philippe Senderos brought Altidore down inside the area. Johnson stepped up to take the resulting penalty, sending Stockdale the wrong way while completing his hattrick.

Fulham: Stockdale; Riether, Senderos, Amorebieta, Riise; Duff (Dejagah 68), Parker, Sidwell, Dempsey (Bent 79); Taarabt (Kasami 63); Berbatov

Goals: Sidwell 52′

Sunderland: Mannone, Bardsley, Alonso, Brown, O’Shea, Cattermole, Colback, Ki, Johnson (Celustka 87), Borini (Larsson 75), Fletcher (Altidore 66)

Goals: Johnson 29′,69′, 85′; Ki 41′

MLS Snapshot: Orlando City SC 2-1 Montreal Impact

Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC

The game in 100 words (or less): For weeks, it was a widely held belief that the Montreal Impact would snatch up the sixth and final playoff place in the Eastern Conference with little or no resistance from their opposition. As they went six games unbeaten (four wins), all looked to be setting up perfect for the club that fired Frank Klopas midseason, but there was another team in the race for sixth that kept winning themselves: Orlando City SC. On Saturday night, Montreal and Orlando City faced off at the Citrus, with the expansion Lions claiming their fourth-straight victory with a 2-1 triumph. Montreal now holds a one-point lead on Orlando in the race for sixth, and have two games in hand, but it’s no longer a foregone conclusion L’Impact will qualify for the playoffs no resistance whatsoever.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

33′ — Bush’s mistake gifts Larin the opening goal — Larin did what your taught to do as a striker — “put it on frame, test the goalkeeper” — but in no universe does a shot so feeble have any business finding the back of the net. Evan Bush has been great this year. Hopefully (for Montreal’s sake), this howler doesn’t turn into the yips with the playoffs looming.

43′ — Hall’s “mistake” gifts Oduro an equalizer — Dominic Oduro equalized in the 43rd minute, when he took the ball out of the hands of Tally Hall and smashed it into the back of the net, but the goal should have been disallowed due to Hall having full control of the ball.

80′ — Hines hits the winner for Orlando — Seb Hines put the ball back into the mixer and just so happened to find the back of the net in the 80th minute. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

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Man of the match: Seb Hines

Goalscorers: Larin (33′), Oduro (43′), Hines (80′)

MLS Snapshot: NY Red Bulls 2-1 Columbus Crew SC

Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls
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The game in 100 words (or less): Two weeks in a row Columbus Crew SC have had a chance to go top of the Eastern Conference with a victory, and two weeks in a row Crew SC have failed to take a single point from massively important fixtures. Their latest defeat, a 2-1 humbling at the hands of the East-leading New York Red Bulls, started so well for Gregg Berhalter’s side, but was undone by a pair of costly, comedic defensive errors that allowed Lloyd Sam and Bradley Wright-Phillips (15th of the season) to erase an early deficit (Justin Meram) and win all three points. The result not only keeps the Red Bulls top of the East, but gives them a three- and four-point cushion with three and two games in hand on their nearest competitors., D.C. United and New England Revoltion respectively. For Crew SC, they’re four points back of the Red Bulls in fourth place, one point ahead of fifth-place Toronto FC, who have a game in hand.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

9′ — Meram pokes it past Robles for an early lead — Meram “earned” his goal all the way back in midfield, when the Iraqi international’s mazy run took a routine turnover inside Crew SC’s defensive half and turned it into a dangerous counter-attacking opportunity. Harrison Afful overlapped and provided the cross for Meram to send home.

12′ — Sam capitalizes on multiple mistakes to equalize — Crew SC pass the ball out of the back. They don’t boot it forward to clear. It’s just what they do. Sometimes, that’ll bite you. When your goalkeeper and right back both have blunders clearing the ball 10 seconds apart, you probably deserve to concede an ugly, scrappy goal.

21′ — Wright-Phillips capitalizes on more defensive gaffes — See the above description for Red Bulls goal no. 1.

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Man of the match: Damien Perrinelle

Goalscorers: Meram (9′), Sam (12′), Wright-Phillips (21′)