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Fulham 1-3 Sunderland Premiership Matchday 12 1213 The Guardian

last updated Tuesday 20th November 2012, 3:35 PM

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Dominic Fifield at The Guardian

Fulham (0) 1 Sunderland (0) 3

Sunderland's luck may have turned.

A team previously bereft of confidence and prone to self-destruct will feel rejuvenated as they bask in rare victory, those key creative talents who had previously been gripped by self-doubt hinting at revival.

This was an occasion too inviting to be passed up, the chance to expose opponents left a man down for an hour.

Sometimes it takes such good fortune to spark a team into life.

Perhaps their lowly position had been deceptive after all, a legacy in part from the postponement of a home game against Reading back in August that had potentially sapped early momentum from their campaign.

Yet this was still only a second league victory since March, and hugely timely given other results near the foot over the weekend.

Martin O'Neill will draw heart from the fact four of his team's next five matches are on Wearside.

The most encouraging aspects of this success were the flickers of form offered by Adam Johnson and Stéphane Sessègnon, albeit against depleted opponents.

The pair have been far too peripheral all term, the latter struggling to reproduce those flashes of brilliance that had illuminated the team last season.

He will have delighted in the curled attempt from distance that arced gloriously beyond Mark Schwarzer's outstretched hand to register their third, a fine first reward of the campaign.

Sunderland needed the two-goal cushion, with Simon Mignolet saving smartly from Steve Sidwell and Mladen Petric before the end.

"Confidence is a big thing and Sessègnon has been searching for that kind of form all season," said O'Neill."

For a couple of months last year he was absolutely fantastic for us and ended up winning the player of the year.

His family now are settled in the area, too, which has helped him.

Adam had been playing in a team at Manchester City and getting 20 or 25 minutes here or there, either coming on to try and do something or when they're in front.

We're not remotely as good as Manchester City, so he's having to strive from the start and do more for us that he would ever have had to do there.

But he's getting there.

" Johnson grew into the contest.

It was his wonderful pass, cutting out the retreating Philippe Senderos, that was collected by a galloping Steven Fletcher with his first touch and dispatched with the Scotland international's second to edge the visitors ahead.

When Fulham sensed an unlikely revival, Johnson again provided with a corner thumped emphatically in off the far post by Carlos Cuéllar.

Petric was off the field at the time receiving stitches to a four-inch gash in his shin, thereby reducing Fulham to nine.

Fulham, even with "nine-and-a-half", as Martin Jol suggested given Petric's cut, had arguably maintained the game's most consistent threat throughout, with Dimitar Berbatov impressive and Damien Duff's a spritely presence on the flank.

It was the Irishman who had benefited from Hugo Rodallega's sliced shot to square for Petric to equalise.

Brede Hangeland visited the referee's room in the aftermath to apologise for the tackle which had wrecked the home side's chances.

The first red of the Norwegian's career flashed after he leapt from the turf to compete for possession with Lee Cattermole.

Hangeland's left foot had squashed the loose ball, his right following through, with Jol claiming it had slipped.

Regardless, he was airborne in the challenge, meaning a first Fulham sending off since May 2011 felt inevitable.

"By the letter of the law, he was right," said Jol, with a referees' delegation having visited Fulham's Motspur Park training ground only last week to remind all of the rules and regulations over such incidents."

But, even so, it would be nice if referees had played football themselves, or at least refereed in the spirit of the game.

" O'Neill's assessment was perhaps more eye-catching."

It is amazing when we've all been given the directives," he added."

How many times do we have to be told? We've been guilty ourselves, with Lee Cattermole sent off, but sometimes I don't understand players.

No one is going to think you're a coward if you don't go in two-footed for a challenge.

" Hangeland's action was an aberration.

Sunderland must prove this result is not the exception but, rather, the start of better things.

Man of the match: Adam Johnson (Sunderland)

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