Sunderland 0 Fulham 1 - Neil Cameron's match analysis

There are few things more depressing in the life of a football fan than losing the opening game of a new season at home

Former Sunderland winger Kieran Richardson is knocked off the ball by Adam Johnson during Fulham’s victory
Former Sunderland winger Kieran Richardson is knocked off the ball by Adam Johnson during Fulham’s victory

There are few things more depressing in the life of a football fan than losing the opening game of a new season at home.

You get all dressed up, expectations are set to ten and then the team fails to deliver. More often then not, it sets the trend for what is about to happen over the following 37 games.

You walk away from the ground wondering why anyone would willingly put themselves through such misery.

However, there was an odd atmosphere inside the Stadium of Light following Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Fulham, a game and result that failed to make the heart fly.

It was almost as if everyone at Sunderland, manager, players and supporter, accepted that this was just a small bump in the road – and it’s not the road to nowhere.

This was, of course, the first game of the season. Only fools judge a team after the opening 90 minutes.

The problem for Sunderland’s fans was that for all the changes made and money spent over the summer, they had been in this movie before. Losing at home to a side that didn’t have to be brilliant to take all three points became a permanent feature towards the end of the Martin O’Neill era.

This was not supposed to happen under Paolo Di Canio.

However, there was enough to suggest that it might be worth not giving up quite yet and that over the next 37 league games, Sunderland could be a team to look out for.

For 45 minutes, Di Canio’s side played pretty decent stuff. They passed the ball well, had one or two good moves and Fulham goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg pulled off a stunning save to prevent Emanuele Giaccherini’s half-volley from flying into the top corner.

After half-time, more long balls than necessary were played and the formation didn’t look right. Jozy Altidore did enough to suggest he’s going to be a player, but he really needed Stéphane Sessègnon to help him in the No 10 role. The Benin international had a woeful afternoon.

Sunderland kept passing the ball crisply and their fitness was there for all to be seen.

But there was a lack of quality, none more so when Ji Dong-Won missed a back-post header at the death that should, at very least, have been on target.

Fulham did nothing but defend and score a goal, which came on 52 minutes when Pajtim Kasami met Damien Duff’s corner at the back post and was too easily able to out-jump Valentin Roberge.

So encouraging stuff, if a bad result?

“I’d agree with that,” said Adam Johnson, Sunderland’s most enterprising player. “I thought we dominated for long periods. We kept the ball well, without creating real clear-cut chances, but at least we were having a go; Fulham didn’t look like they wanted to come at us and really want to win to be honest. I think they were happy with sitting back and trying to nick something, which they did.”

The amount of changes made, both in personnel and attitude, does mean a bit of patience will be required.

Johnson said: “It’s the first game, isn’t it? There’s a long way to go. We’ve just got to bounce back, put this behind us, and take the positives from the game like that we controlled it and try and take our chances.

“If teams put men behind the ball then it’s a positive for us because it means they think we can cause them problems, but sometimes it’s hard to break eleven bodies down.

“We found that out a little bit in the second half when they dropped off and got everyone behind the ball. We’ve just got to put that behind us now. We were obviously upset and disappointed. It’s a lot easier to take it when someone smashes one in from 35 yards and losing 1-0 rather than losing to a sloppy goal from our point of view at a set-piece.”

Something that has been almost forgotten is that Steven Fletcher is still to come back. The club’s top scorer from last season is a big miss, particularly to the likes of Johnson who found linking up with the striker so natural.

Johnson said: “Hopefully, Steven isn’t too far off, because he’s a player who will give the team another dimension.”

You don’t get to become a billionaire without possessing a smidgeon of self-confidence. Ellis Short is such a man and therefore doubt and he are rarely in the same room together.

Sunderland’s owner spoke to a few pressmen before Saturday’s match with the message being that he was confident about what was to come this season for his club after the busiest summer of his tenure on Wearside.

In his playing days, Di Canio could have missed a hat-trick of penalties, four open goals and forgot to bring his kit so was made to play in his pants, and would still demand the ball, try to beat players and shoot from 30-yards.

This self-confidence and belief of owner and manager will be important over the first few weeks of this season.

Chances are there will be more days like this one.

However, if this project is to work then nobody’s hand should be anywhere close to the panic button. Sunderland must continue to believe they are doing the right thing.

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