Sunderland’s dismal run of Premier League form came to an end on Sunday as they ran out 3-1 victors against 10-man Fulham at Craven Cottage.
Fulham’s hopes took a hammer blow on the half-hour mark when Brede Hangeland was shown a straight red card for a reckless challenge on Lee Cattermole, and Steven Fletcher put Sunderland ahead five minutes into the second half.
Mladen Petric briefly pulled the home side level just after the hour mark, but a header from Carlos Cuellar on 65 minutes and a 25-yard thunderbolt from Stephane Sessegnon five minutes later gave Martin O’Neill’s side their second win of the season.
After a dire opening half an hour, in which Steve Sidwell’s scuffed effort was the only shot registered on target, a loose pass from Giorgios Karagounis – symptomatic of the quality game – cost Fulham dearly.
The Greek midfielder sold Hangeland short, and after the centre-back lunged to beat the on-coming Cattermole to the ball, referee Lee Probert brandished a red card for what he deemed to be a two-footed tackle.
Sunderland almost made their advantage count immediately, but Sessegnon was unable to make the most of a free run on goal when played in by Phil Bardsley. Instead of shooting, the ex-PSG man opted to find the run of Fletcher and Aaron Hughes easily cut out the danger.
Berbatov, the focus of much pre-match hype, failed to truly test Simon Mignolet in the opposition goal, with his opportunities limited due to a number of offside calls. The Bulgarian did manage to find space on the right-hand flank as the opening 45 drew to a close, yet he dragged his shot wide.
John Arne Riise’s deflected effort crashed off the bar as the second half began with a flurry of chances resulting in Sunderland taking the lead. Fletcher peeled off substitute Philippe Senederos well to control Adam Johnson’s superb ball before calmly poking home beyond Mark Schwarzer.
The hosts were forced into their third change of the evening after the hour mark, with Petric coming on in place of the injured Bryan Ruiz, and the striker made an immediate impact. Damien Duff just beat the offside trap before driving the ball across the face of goal for the Croatian to finish.
Yet with Fulham temporarily down to nine men as Petric received treatment off the field, the Black Cats restored their lead and then some. Carlos Cuellar rose to head home his first goal for Martin O’Neill’s side, before Sessegnon crashed the ball in off the post with a fabulous strike from 25 yards.
Minutes later, a neat turn set Petric free but the 31-year-old was unable to add to his tally, as Sunderland held on to seal a vital away victory that sees them climb three points clear of the relegation zone.