Paolo Di Canio, in his most recent press conference, talked about the need for the club to sign him a new, creative centre midfielder. While ten players certainly represents a good haul for Sunderland in the transfer window, the Italian manager mentioned how he felt it 'should be eleven', perhaps eluding to his preferred midfield target Tom Huddlestone's move to Hull.
Perhaps with Huddlestone in the middle, The Black Cats might have come out of the game with a result, as Di Canio saw his side huff and puff, but lack the creativity required to unlock Fulham's stubborn resistance. As it is Pajtim Kassami's header just after half time was enough to give the away side all three points with their only clear-cut chance of the game.
Which isn't to say Sunderland's new look side showed nothing. Indeed, the home side were comfortably the better of the two in the first half, harassing the Fulham midfield, and never allowing the Cottagers a foothold in the game. The only time the away side got a sniff in the opening 45 minutes was when Seb Larsson sold Kieran Westwood a poor backpass. Fortunately, the Irish stopper, taking his place between the sticks ahead of new signing Vito Manonne, reacted quickly to sweep the ball away ahead of an advancing Fulham attacker.
Sunderland pressurised their opposition for the entirety of the first half, but chances were few and far between. Most of them came from distance, with Cabral hitting three long-range efforts just wide of the target. Jozy Altidore, who acquitted himself reasonably well on his debut, showed good strength and movement all day, and he was inches away from finding a touch to an excellent cross from Jack Colback. Fellow new boy and star signing Emanuele Giaccherini also had a bright start, showing the skill and trickery he revealed in pre-season.
However, it was Adam Johnson who was the star of the show in the first half. Looking fresher and more confident that he's ever done for Sunderland, the winger gave young full back Matthew Briggs, an early substitute for injured Kieren Richardson, a very hard time. He produced an excellent touch to find Giaccherini, whose shot from distance went straight into the hand of Stekelenburg. But the best chance of the half fell the newest signing, Ondrej Celustka, who fired a blistering half volley from distance towards goal. The Dutch keeper was forced to tip the ball over the crossbar, and the game went into half time level.
It was Adam Johnson again who had a decent early chance in the second half during a swift counter attack. Quick, intricate passing between Sessegnon, Altidore, and Giaccherini ended up on Johnson's left foot just outside the box. However his shot was always rising over the crossbar.
Despite all the pressure, Sunderland had struggled to create many clear chances, and there was a certain inevitability about Fulham's goal, and its simplicity. Dimitar Berbatov found space to put in a cross which was deflected out for a corner. Damien Duff delivered a ball to far post, where Kassami rose above everyone to head into the back of the net. It was poor defending from the home side, particularly debutant Valentin Roberge, who was beaten far too easily in the air.
Sunderland pressed for an equaliser almost immediately, but with Brede Hangeland dominant, The Black Cats attacks down the wing proved ineffective. The best opportunities came when Altidore showed some inventiveness. He turned Hughes excellently on the edge of the box, but his snapshot dragged wide. It's clear that the US striker needs someone to support him, with Sessegnon completely anonymous alongside rumours that he may be on his way to Qatar.
Altidore almost leveled on the 73 minute mark, after a deflected Giaccherini effort spun his way. However Stekelenburg was out quick to block the debutants effort, with the Dutch keeper injuring his shoulder in the process. He was replaced by Stockdale, and the gap in the game as he was treated took the wind out of Sunderland's sails somewhat. The game became even scrappier, and looked to be falling into a lull.
However, the home side did have one last chance to equalise just before stoppage time. Johnson ran at the Fulham backline, and produced an excellent right footed cross. He found subsitute Ji, but the Korean's header went wide. A couple of free-kicks late on came to nothing, and Sunderland fell to a disappointing opening day defeat.
Despite some good pressure in the first half, it was not a performance Paolo Di Canio will be pleased with. Aside from a promising debut from Altidore, and a very good Adam Johnson display, Sunderland didn't show a great deal, and never looked like breaking Fulham down. Of course, this is still only the first day of the season, and it's certainly not the time to get carried away. The Black Cats are still two or three players off a full team, and with a lack of creativity in the middle evident from this performance, a center midfielder will be the immediate priority. Perhaps this will lead the club to quicken things up in the transfer window before next weeks trip to Southampton.
We'll have player ratings and more in our MAtch Stream later. Find that HERE as we continue to review the action in the coming days.