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′

EFL Cup: Mourinho beats Guardiola; Chelsea fall to West Ham

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 26: Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United (L) and Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City (R) embrace prior to kick off during the EFL Cup fourth round match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on October 26, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images
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The EFL Cup quarterfinal field is set following the completion of three more fourth-round clashes on Wednesday. Manchester United, West Ham United and Southampton join the likes of Arsenal and Liveprool in the final eight.

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Manchester United 1-0 Manchester City

Not all Manchester derbies are created equally. If you watched all 90 minutes of Wednesday’s clash at Old Trafford, that’s undoubtedly your first takeaway.

Clear-cut scoring chances were very few and very far between, particularly in the first half. United had the better of the opening 45 minutes — by the narrowest of margins — but failed to hit paydirt. Attrition Persistence paid off not long into the second half, though, as Juan Mata finished a scrappy bit of build-up from 12 yards out. Zlatan Ibrahimovic tallied the assist on the goal, as Ander Herrera should also so for clearing out the penalty area with a strong shoulder into the back of Fernando.

City failed to register a single shot on target over the course of 90 minutes, as Pep Guardiola‘s side slumps to six games without a victory (all competitions), alternating draws and losses through. As for Guadriola’s personal duel with Jose Mourinho, the rivals each have one victory against the other since arriving in Manchester, with Guardiola taking the first in Premier League play.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s EFL Cup roundup — Liverpool, Arsenal move on ]

West Ham United 2-1 Chelsea

Cheikhou Kouyate and Edimilson Fernandes fired Slaven Bilic‘s West Ham past Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea at the London Stadium, as both managers opted for a mix between first-team and reserve players. It was 2-0 until the final minute of regular time, when Gary Cahill pulled one back for Chelsea, but that’s as close as they would get.

The game was, once again, marred by unsavory scenes in the stands inside West Ham’s new ground, as Blues fans in the away end clashed with Hammers supproters seated closest to them.

Southampton 1-0 Sunderland

Sofiane Boufal made his first start for Southampton since becoming the club’s new record signing this summer, and marked his full debut with a stunning goal, the only one of the game, as Saints topped Sunderland at the St. Mary’s Stadium.

Drogba likely out for Impact playoff clash with D.C. United

Montreal Impact forward Didier Drogba heads the ball in front of D.C. United midfielder Marcelo Sarvas during the second half of an MLS soccer match Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016, in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)
Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP
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Superstar forward Didier Drogba‘s absence from the Montreal Impact roster is unlikely to end in Thursday’s Eastern Conference knockout-round playoff match against host D.C. United.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Despite scoring 10 goals in 22 appearances, Drogba hasn’t played since the end of September – partly due to a feud over playing time with manager Mauro Biello and more recently because of a back ailment.

The 38-year-old Ivory Coast international and former Chelsea striker sat out most of training again on Tuesday. Multiple media outlets on Wednesday reported that he did not make the trip to Washington.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Going to the playoffs edition ]

“I don’t think those chances will be good,” Biello said Tuesday, according to “He hasn’t trained, he still feels a discomfort, so the chances are very minimal.”

Drogba is out of contract at the end of the season, and fifth-seeded Montreal is actually 6-3-3 this season when he doesn’t play.

In the latter third of the campaign, Biello appeared to be more comfortable starting mid-season loan signing Matteo Mancosu at forward and bringing Drogba off the bench. The 31-year-old Italian has three goals and four assists in 15 appearances (seven starts).

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

“(Drogba’s) a different player than Mancosu, but I don’t think much is going to change if they swap one for the other,” D.C. United coach Ben Olsen said, according to “So the way we go about the game isn’t going to change.”

By contrast, fourth-seeded D.C. United have very few questions surrounding their personnel for a group that had won four straight before sitting most of its regulars in a 4-2 loss at Orlando City SC on Sunday.

[ MORE: The case for (and against) every team in the East | The West ]

Midfielder Marcelo Sarvas (knee) and outside back Sean Franklin (calf) made their first appearances since September on Sunday, but seem unlikely to supplant anyone in Olsen’s starting lineup.

“We like our group,” Olsen told reporters Tuesday. “But those two players are very influential to the team. These are good choices to have, and I’m certainly not going to tell you who I’m starting.”

LIVE – EFL Cup: Manchester Derby, West Ham-Chelsea, Saints-Sunderland

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 12:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United evades Fernandinho of Manchester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on April 12, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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There are still three more teams yet to join the quintet who clinched quarterfinal berths in the EFL Cup on Tuesday.

We’ve got three all-PL ties to decide their fates.

[ LIVE: Follow EFL Cup scores ]

Follow the action above, as we learn who takes the remaining spots alongside Newcastle United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Leeds United, and Hull City.

Holders Man City are off to Old Trafford for a derby match-up in the Round of 16, while it’s an all-London match at the Olympic Stadium between West Ham and Chelsea.

Finally, Sunderland hopes to break out of its season-long slump to join Northeast rivals Newcastle in the quarters. The Black Cats will need to win at Southampton to move on.

EFL Cup fourth round, Wednesday games

West Ham United vs. Chelsea — 2:45 p.m. ET
Southampton vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET
Manchester United vs. Manchester City — 3 p.m. ET

MLS Cup Playoffs Thurs. preview: Seattle, DC riding hot streaks

SEATTLE, WA - MARCH 06:  Osvaldo Alonso #6 of the Seattle Sounders FC dribbles against Roger Espinoza #27 of Sporting Kansas City at CenturyLink Field on March 6, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
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The 4-5 match-ups in each conference are set for Thursday’s MLS Cup Playoffs, with two of the league’s hottest teams set to hit the pitch.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Both Seattle and DC are at home for their “play-in” matches, and face road teams with plenty of veteran experience and firepower in what should be a pair of beauts on each side of our country.

DC United vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET

The Black-and-Red have hit their stride under coach Ben Olsen, and seem on board the plan.

Montreal, however, has not seen tranquility in Quebec. Ignacio Piatti has been fantastic, but the headlines have revolved around Didier Drogba‘s unhappiness at not starting under Mauro Biello.

Drogba is not expected to play, while DC was able to rest the majority of its starters on Decision Day. The combination of those two facts bodes well for the hosts.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC — 10:30 p.m. ET

Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris have helped Seattle make up for the absence of transferred Obafemi Martins and injured Clint Dempsey.

The duo has been simply fantastic in “rave green”, and Sporting KC is going to have a whale of a time slowing Seattle. Consider the ability and season of under-the-radar MVP candidate Osvaldo Alonso in the center of the park, and all bets are off.

Of course, the thing about KC is there’s little question it has the mettle to not just win on the road, but win a tournament. Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Dom Dwyer, Brad Davis, Benny Feilhaber… who in that locker room is going to shrink under the bright lights of the playoffs?