Despite the comfortable performance, Sunderland didn't get off to the best of starts, and indeed could have been behind before the ten minute mark after some sloppy play from Wes Brown. The centre half lost the ball to Sascha Reither inside his own half, and the German played a superb ball across the goal to set Dimitar Berbatov through. Fortunately the Bulgarian made a complete mess of his chance, shinning the ball well wide of the target.
Fulham's only clear cut chances in the first half came from forcing their opposition into mistakes with high pressing. Colback also lost the ball cheaply allowing Adel Taarabt to run into the box. However the lethargic Moroccan forced himself into a difficult angle, and his shot was saved by Vito Mannone at near post.
Despite Fulham's early pressure, and their occasional sloppiness in possession, Sunderland soon took control of the game, with Adam Johnson taking the form of his match-changing substitute appearance in mid-week into this game. He caused John Arne Riise problems all day with his dribbling skill, and his deliveries into the box were largely immaculate. The England international, perhaps now an outside bet for the 2014 World Cup squad, almost found Borini with a clever ball over the top early on.
Johnson was involved with everything positive Sunderland did, and set up Bardsley to cut inside and shoot to force David Stockdale's first save of the match. He could only parry it back into danger however, and the away side continued to press, eventually winning a free-kick on the left hand side, about half way inside Fulham's half. It was Johnson who took it, finding John O'Shea at the far edge of the area, whose header back in almost led to a goal, with Steven Fletcher getting in front of Stockdale, and heading over the crossbar when he should have scored. Sunderland, and Johnson, would have better luck with their next set piece.
It was the winger who won the free-kick on the right hand side, cutting in, taking it past two and then forcing a foul from Steve Sidwell. In a similar position to that from which he scored the previous week against Carlisle, Johnson curled another delicious effort over the wall and into the net. Stockdale, the Fulham keeper who had a torrid afternoon, got a hand to it, and perhaps could have done better, but that takes nothing away from a superb effort from our, at times very frustrating, star man.
Fulham were all over the place, and began conceding set-pieces here, there and everywhere. On the 35 minute mark, Ki delivered a free-kick from the left hand side. Stockdale came to collect, and dropped the ball straight back into danger. It fell straight to new left-back Marcos Alonso, who couldn't position himself correctly to force the ball into the back of the net.
The ball was cleared, but not for long as Sunderland continued to come back at the home side. Borini came charging down the right and was fouled by Riise. Johnson played the free-kick low and found Ki Sung-Yeung completely unmarked just to the right of the penalty spot. With a pair of white bodies rushing it to close down, the Korean playmaker swept the ball into the malaise, hitting Stockdale before bouncing off Senderos and going into the Fulham goal. Despite the activity in the box, the goal will be given to Ki, and Sunderland had a two goal lead going into half time.
Fulham started the second half well, and had an early chance when full back Reither, probably the home side's best player on the day, got down the right and put a low cross in to find Berbatov. Mannone just got across to collect the ball before Bram Stoker's Sex Machine could touch home.
However, just two minute later Fulham pulled one back through some very sloppy defending. A corner came in from the right, was allowed to float along the six yard box, before Sidwell, losing Marcos Alonso far too easily, headed in from close range.
The home side were in the ascendency, but Sunderland looked to sit back and let the home side try and break them down, something they struggled to do. In fact, the visitors looked by far the most likely to get a third, attacking on the counter with pinpoint accuracy. Borini's pace was a real asset here, taking advantage of the lack of bodies at the back and the space in behind to cause trouble. He cut inside and saw a shot go wide before, a couple of minutes later, getting down the left and playing it inside to the on-rushing Cattermole. The midfielder, who hasn't scored for Sunderland, saw a deflected effort tipped round the post by Stockdale.
It wasn't long before one of our counter-attacks led to a goal, and when that goal did come, it was the result of a stunning move, with Ki unsurprisingly at the centre of it. Gus Poyet replaced the ineffective Fletcher with Jozy Altidore to provide more movement up front, and he immediately got involved, playing a one-two with Ki to put the Korean in acres of space in the middle. He waited patiently for the run of Johnson on the right, before playing a perfect defence-splitting pass to find the winger who scored his second of the match with a very good finish.
With the away side now comfortable, Sunderland continued to let Fulham try and break them down, but the home side were lacking in any attacking initiative. In fact, the closest they came was with a fluke effort. Kasami, on as a second half substitute, saw his cross from the left almost sneak into the opponents goal. Mannone had to react quickly to tip the ball away before it dipped in.
With six minutes remaining, and with Fulham not looking like coming close to a goal, Sunderland rubbed salt into their opponents wounds. A long ball forward was picked up by Altidore, who with two defenders to beat, cut into the box, tried a couple of step-overs, before selling Phillipe Senderos into the most obvious foul I think I've ever seen. Senderos stuck a gift-wrapped leg out, which the US international kindly went over. Adam Johnson sent Stockdale the wrong way to complete his hat-trick, the least the winger deserve for a superb performance, comfortably his best in a Sunderland shirt.
There was still time for one last moment of magic from a Sunderland player, this time Vito Mannone, who somehow kept out Steve Sidwell's effort from point blank range, after a Riise cross found him at far post. The Fulham supporters who remained in Craven Cottage were certain it was a goal, but the score remained at, and ended, 4-1.
The win lifts Sunderland above Crystal Palace and off the bottom of the table, as well as a point off the relegation zone. With performance like this, and with Adam Johnson in this sort of form, you'd have to assume we're far better than those teams around us.
We'll have more reaction later in Player Ratings, so check that out HERE!