Johnson calls shots for resurgent Black Cats

Fulham 1 Sunderland 4

Johnson calls shots for resurgent Black Cats

For René Meulensteen, it was all a little more difficult to decipher. “Frustrating game,” the Craven Cottage boss lamented. “Even more so, frustrating result. I think a lot of people would see the scoreline, bloody hell, Fulham-Sunderland, 1-4, and think ‘what’s happened there?’.”

On the day, of course, Johnson happened. The Sunderland winger hit the first hat-trick of his career to secure a deserved win for Gus Poyet’s team. In the longer term, however, Meulensteen’s fair questions about this game reflects the utter chaos of this escalating relegation battle. The very fact a side as good as this improving Sunderland team remain rooted to the bottom sums it up.

Their handsome win further crunched the entire bottom half of the table with five points between 20th and 12th.

To take up Meulensteen’s theme, who knows what’s going to happen next? One thing that seems certain is that Sunderland will keep improving.

They looked on Saturday like a creditable mid-table team, not the club that appeared doomed just a few weeks ago.

“I thought everyone was outstanding today,” Johnson said. “Looking at teams around us, I think everyone was writing us off, we were dead and buried so we had nothing to lose. Now, there are going to be a few teams who will not be wanting to play us.”

Sunderland certainly had Fulham retreating in this game. Although Meulensteen’s team had the better of the opening exchanges, Sunderland held firm before forcing the home side open. On 29 minutes, Johnson curled in a free-kick that David Stockdale really should have stopped. On 41, Sung-Yueng Ki swept the ball home from a set-piece. Afterwards, Poyet praised performances at both ends of the pitch — not least from an assured Irishman.

“With John O’Shea and Wes Brown at the back we are more solid with presence and experience, and if you have Jonno [Johnson] as he was today, then you have the basics for a very good end of the season.”

It made for a very good end of the game. On 69 minutes, just as a resurgent Fulham looked set to finally build on Steve Sidwell’s 52nd-minute headed goal, Sunderland took advantage of their naturally more open defence to cut them open superbly. In one devastatingly swift move, substitute Jozy Altidore found Ki, who then slipped in Johnson who slid past Stockdale. The winger claimed his hat-trick from the penalty spot when, on 85 minutes, Altidore forced Philippe Senderos into a clumsy challenge.

And while Meulensteen said he hoped to bring in fresh blood this month, Poyet was hopeful Swansea wouldn’t recall the on-loan Ki. Nonetheless, the Sunderland boss has found hard work is paying off.

FULHAM: Stockdale 4; Riether 5, Senderos 4, Amorebieta 5, Riise 5; Parker 7, Sidwell 7; Duff 7 (Dejagah 68, 6), Taarabt 7 (Kasami 63, 6), Dempsey 5 (Bent 79, 5); Berbatov 5.

SUNDERLAND: Mannone 7; Bardsley 7, O’Shea 7, Brown 7, Alonso 7; Ki 8; Cattermole 7, Colback 7; Johnson 9 (Celustka 87, 6), Fletcher 6 (Altidore 66, 7), Borini 7 (Larsson 75, 6).

Referee: M Dean (Wirral).

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