Clint Dempsey has enjoyed the kind of season that footballers dream of, and if this was his goodbye to Craven Cottage then it was a fitting way to sign off.
The American has been simply sensational this season. A tally of 23 goals from midfield is superb, yet the worry for Fulham is that in his current surroundings he is too big a fish in too small a pond.
With a year left on his contract the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal are rumoured to be ready to test Fulham’s resolve to keep the 29-year-old. After his display here, in which he scored an outstanding free-kick to spark a series of fine goals that enlightened a game that had little riding on it, his manager, Martin Jol, admitted that keeping hold of his club’s talisman and others, such as Danny Murphy, Pavel Pogrebnyak and Mahamadou Diarra will be the major task of the summer.
“If all the players are here we will only get better,” said Jol after his side moved a point shy of their highest ever Premier League total of 53, set three years ago.
“Clint doesn’t surprise me in his game as I know he will get better. He knows what the fans think of him and hopefully it will be enough for him to sign his new contract.”
Yet Martin O’Neill, Jol’s Sunderland counterpart, was left to rue a lapse in concentration that ensured his side conceded the winner to Mousa Dembele less than a minute after equalising through Phil Bardsley.
“Overall it was an encouraging performance by us and in possession I thought we passed the ball pretty well today,” O’Neill said. “To concede just after we scored a great equaliser was particularly galling, but overall we are learning.”
Yet even O’Neill was forced to acknowledge Dempsey’s skill to open the scoring. Bardsley’s first Premier League goal in over a year was also a cracker, lashing home from 25 yards, but the final word belonged to Fulham and Dembele, whose drive deflected home off Michael Turner.
Fraizer Campbell should have equalised after Nicklas Bendtner had headed the ball down to him, but this game — and indeed this season — was all about Dempsey.
Now Fulham need to ensure there is more to come next season.
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