STEVEN Fletcher was on target yesterday as Sunderland picked up their first Barclays Premier League win in seven attempts at the expense of ten-man Fulham.
A red card for Fulham captain Brede Hangeland was the only real action of a nervy yet well-contested first half.
But a 50th minute goal from Fletcher, the striker’s first since the 1-0 win at Wigan in September, opened the scoring before substitute Mladen Petric levelled for the hosts.
Sunderland then scored twice within seven minutes of Petric’s equaliser, through Carlos Cuellar and Stephane Sessegnon, to pick up only their second win at Craven Cottage in the Premier League era.
Fulham manager Martin Jol was forced into an early change as Sweden winger Alex Kacaniklic went off injured after 27 minutes with Hugo Rodallega replacing him. Things went from bad to worse for Jol as his skipper Hangeland was dismissed moments later for a two-footed lunge on Cattermole.
A rare, misplaced pass from Giorgos Karagounis saw Sunderland captain Lee Cattermole take possession and the former Wigan man looked to take on Hangeland before being caught by the Norway international and referee Lee Probert produced a red card.
Fulham reacted well and Berbatov should have put them ahead when he was picked out in the area by Damien Duff, but the Bulgarian hit his shot straight at Simon Mignolet.
Sunderland’s best chance of the first half came after 42 minutes as Sessegnon beat the offside trap to pull the ball across the face of goal only to see Aaron Hughes clear in front of Fletcher. Berbatov came close yet again before the break. Hughes played him a perfect through-ball but his shot flew just wide.
Fulham started the second half the strongest despite their numerical disadvantage and almost took the lead after 49 minutes when John Arne Riise’s cross was deflected by Phil Bardsley onto the crossbar with Mignolet beaten.
The visitors were ahead moments later as Adam Johnson’s perfectly weighted pass found Fletcher rushing through on Mark Schwarzer’s goal and he slid the ball calmly into the corner of the goal.
Fulham were hit by a second injury when Bryan Ruiz pulled up and was replaced by Petric.
The open nature of the game meant that Fulham were always going to create chances and they finally took one just after the hour as Duff just stayed onside to find Petric, who finished past Mignolet to level the game.
Petric then had to receive treatment and Sunderland took full advantage against nine men to regain the lead just two minutes after being pegged back.
Larsson floated in a corner that was headed beyond Schwarzer by Cuellar for the Spaniard’s first goal for the club.
The points were secured five minutes later. The visitors broke forward at pace and went 3-1 up after a fantastic individual effort from Sessegnon as the Benin international cut in from the left before arrowing an unstoppable effort past Schwarzer.