As far as nil-nils go, this was one of the more entertaining ones. Roy Keane’s Sunderland produced a magnificent display away from home at Craven Cottage and were very unfortunate to go back north with only a point for their troubles after peppering the opposition goal without getting any reward at all.
The Fulham team standing in our way had struggled the year before – and hadn’t really got going this season, either. They were second best throughout the contest, but still had moments of creativity thanks to new signing Zoltan Gera in particular.
After a stop-start first season at Sunderland, Kieran Richardson began his second year at the club looking fit and sharp.
In his debut season, the former Manchester United player was stifled by injuries that prohibited him from establishing a great deal of rhythm or consistency to his play.
This season, he was a different animal.
And, on this day 14 years ago, Richardson must have been wondering what he had to do to score a goal, after producing two moments of superb set-piece quality either side of the half time whistle – neither of which troubled the scoreboard.
In the 41st minute, the winger’s perfectly accurate curled free kick hit Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer’s left-hand post, flew across the goal line, rebounded off his right and then his left again before eventually being cleared. Richardson’s disbelieving face was almost comical.
In the second 45, Sunderland continued where they left off in the first half. Nine minutes into the second half, we were awarded another free kick – and again, Richardson was the man lining the ball up.
Before the free kick was taken, some antics in the wall caught the eye of the referee Keith Stroud (yes, the ‘referee’ from Saturday’s game against Wigan). Pascal Chimbonda and Jimmy Bullard were taking the notion of ‘getting close to your marker’ to another level!
Richardson’s free kick flew over the wall and crashed into the net, leaving Schwarzer helpless - but referee Stroud placed the blame firmly on Chimbonda and incredibly blew up to disallow the goal.
Surprisingly. Roy Keane refused to berate the referee such was his positivity about his team’s performance.
We should have had a goal from Kieran Richardson’s free-kick as it was clearly a goal but I do not want to criticise the referee too much. We just have to get on with it.
Instead of talking about a cracking game we are going to be talking about a goal which was not allowed.
We hit the woodwork three or four times but I am fairly pleased with a point because we could have been out there all night and probably not scored.
In terms of chances created we deserved to win the game.
It really was a great performance. Sunderland appeared to be in good shape under Keane at this time with new signings – Cissé, Malbranque, Ferdinand and Andy Reid – strengthening the squad that had started the previous campaign.
Though Richardson ended the afternoon frustrated, it turned out he was simply getting his sights set ahead of the Tyne-Wear derby the following week...
Fulham: Schwarzer, Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky, Davies, Murphy, Bullard, Gera (Dempsey 73), Zamora, Johnson.
Subs Not Used: Zuberbuhler, Nevland, Gray, Andreasen, Kallio, Baird.
Sunderland: Gordon, Chimbonda, Ferdinand, Collins, McCartney, Malbranque, Leadbitter (Reid 62), Whitehead, Richardson, Cisse (Murphy 84), Chopra (Healy 69).
Subs Not Used: Fulop, Bardsley, Tainio, Diouf.
Ref: Keith Stroud (Hampshire).