Sunderland end home hoodoo as they see off Fulham
Teenage substitute Josh Maja marked his first league appearance by hitting the goal that finally ended Sunderland’s long wait for a win at the Stadium of Light.
The 18-year-old scored with 13 minutes remaining to ensure Sunderland defeated Fulham 1-0 – securing a first home win since December 17 last year.
It was a tidy finish too from the academy graduate and was enough to lift Sunderland out of the Championship’s bottom three against a Fulham side which had won three of its previous four games.
There have been signs of improvement since Chris Coleman took over on Wearside but he was desperate to see the 21-match run without a home win – a day short of going a full calendar year without winning on their own turf – come to an end before Christmas.
It was clear it was going to be a pretty tight affair from the start, with neither side completely dominating things. It took a while for anyone to pose a real threat on goal, with the defences doing their jobs well.
Sunderland’s best openings in the first half saw Fulham’s Marcus Bettinelli save efforts from distance from George Honeyman and Darron Gibson. Even though the goalkeeper did not hold them he had done enough to turn them to safety.
On the one occasion Bettinelli was beaten before the break he was fortunate to see Lewis Grabban’s header drop wide. The Sunderland striker, on loan from Bournemouth, had done well to move ahead of his marker to jump and flick Adam Matthews’ delivery wide.
Sunderland, despite the dreadful run in front of their own fans, had shown enough to suggest they could claim three points, but Fulham carved out the better chances during that first period.
Midfielder Oliver Norwood had already headed wide from a Rui Fonte cross before greater chances were created minutes before the half-time whistle.
The first saw Sheyi Ojo play a delightful through pass for Tom Cairney to run on to only for the impressive Tyias Browning to charge over and block the effort. Seconds after that goalkeeper Robbin Ruiter did well to deny Stefan Johansen at the near post.
After the restart Sunderland should have been ahead within minutes. James Vaughan had a volley on the turn comfortably saved before Bettinelli made an incredible stop moments later.
Vaughan did well to climb above his marker and direct a strong header from Matthews towards goal from eight yards. Bettinelli somehow flicked the ball up and against the bar before it was cleared.
The Fulham keeper also made a save to prevent Lynden Gooch from scoring while Grabban turned the loose ball wide, and for more than 20 minutes it looked like those misses would prove costly.
But Coleman threw on teenage duo Joel Asoro and Maja and it provided the spark required. Within five minutes, Maja controlled Matthews’ low pass into the area, spun his man before sliding a tidy finish beyond Bettinelli.
Fulham pressed after that but Sunderland’s defence stood firm to record a second clean sheet in a row.