David Boyle: The Confidence Gained From Sunday's Win Should Indeed Spur Us On
Sunderland's timely win at Craven Cottage, our first away victory in what seems like an eternity, has been described as a possible turning point for the Black Cats this term and I tend to agree. Whilst it would be premature to start making predictions of top half finishes and heaven forbid anything even more ambitious Sunderland finally accomplished what we have been showing promise of achieving in recent weeks - goals.
Undoubtedly the dynamic of the game was changed following Brede Hangeland's dismissal, however it was then up to the away side to approach the situation appropriately and remain wary of the sizable attacking threat which Fulham were still more than capable of posing despite their numerical disadvantage whilst probing for the all important goal, or two.
Perhaps just as important as the three points which came from Sunday's encounter was the obvious confidence that swelled amongst the squad as each goal hit the back of the net. Adam Johnson's superbly weighted ball into the stride of Steven Fletcher's advancing run was inch-perfect as was the Scot's deft touch and subsequent finish to complete a counter attack of real pace and swagger, a move which we know the team is capable of but have been woefully unable to piece together previously this term.
More noticeable was how much Stephane Sessegnon blossomed as the team began to play with more freedom and vigour. Before the red card Sessegnon was his usual self this season, proving to be wasteful on the ball and struggling to make any impact on the game what so ever. However as the team grew in confidence so did Sess and his stunning strike was simply the icing on what proved to be a rather tasty cake.
Heck, we even managed to score from a corner kick!
So whilst it would be foolish to get too carried away right now, I believe we have put ourselves in a fantastic position going in to back-to-back home games, fixtures which could easily have been labelled as "must win". If the squad can channel their newly found confidence and self-belief into these games and in turn the rest of the season then I see no reason why we can't finally start to play up to the standards expected of the squad at our disposal.
Karl Jones: Our Season Has Not Got Off The Ground, Yet!
There is no denying that a win was much-needed, and one displaying a lot of what was hoped for back in pre-season against a team going well will certainly lift the mood around the camp, but there were still elements of the performance that suggests any revival will come through more hard work.
That Sunderland were so open against 10 men whilst holding a lead was both encouraging and terrifying - it was the proverbial rollercoaster of a second half. Fortunately, we managed to take our chances and deny Fulham through the excellent Simon Mignolet. Despite that, it was easily the best Sunderland have played this season and there is a tangible cause for optimism as a result, especially when you consider the manner in which the first and third goals were scored. Prior to Stephane Sessegnon's stunning strike, he was choosing the wrong option, or his final pass was misplaced. Slowly, but surely, it is coming together. That systematic improvement will hopefully continue. Anything other would actually be a concern.
Right now, Martin O'Neill knows what is not quite right and looks like he's fixing it. An anomaly, such as his first ten games in charge when long-range efforts were flying in left, right and centre, would simply disguise any progress we have made as a team and put us back to square one. That sounds insane, me saying I don't want us to go off winning games at a canter, but all it would do is mask the deficiencies in the team - almost as much as the Berbatov-Ruiz combo has done at Fulham (they have conceded just one less than QPR).
With two home games upcoming, we have an opportunity to offset those early season stalemates and find a position in the table that reflects the talent we have at our disposal. But that is all it is at the moment. The Aston Villa game was targeted by many as a similar chance to kick-start the campaign. It backfired. West Bromwich Albion are playing better than Fulham are, and are certainly more structured. Should a win be forthcoming on Saturday then maybe we can start looking forward rather than through the fog of draws that currently blurs our path.
So which side of the fence do you find yourself on? Let us know in the comments below!