LONDON // Bobby Zamora put on a striking masterclass as his early header proved enough to lift Fulham up to eighth in the Premier League table. The forward lead the line superbly and was simply too good for Sunderland, who had no answer to the former West Ham man's pace and power. But it was another disappointing day away from home for Steve Bruce's visitors, who have been leapfrogged by their opponents after their insipid display was duly punished.
All the signs before the game pointed to a home win - Fulham had won eight of their 12 games at Craven Cottage this season, while Sunderland's woeful away form is demonstrated by the fact that they had claimed three points in just one of their last 17 Premier League games away from Wearside. But Bruce's men were boosted by the return of Kenwyne Jones after five weeks on the sidelines due to suspension and injury. The Trinidad striker had scored in each of his last three appearances against Fulham, but he was up against a much stronger Fulham side than the one which beat CSKA Sofia in midweek, with Roy Hodgson making six changes.
Yet Fulham showed no ill effects from that game and flew out of the traps, taking the lead after just seven minutes. John Pantsil was the provider, firing in an innocuous-looking cross that saw Zamora ease past Phil Bardsley to guide a simple header into the corner. It was poor defending from Sunderland, and Bruce - a superb centre-half during his time as Manchester United captain - would not have been impressed as Zamora scored his sixth of the season.
Zamora was giving Anton Ferdinand and Michael Turner a torrid time, with his strength offering the hosts a valuable outlet. Ferdinand's day was not improved when he was caught late by Erik Nevland - an injury which he could not recover from - and Fulham nearly took advantage as Clint Dempsey shot narrowly wide with Sunderland temporarily reduced to ten men. The enforced substitution of Nyron Nosworthy for Ferdinand did little to change the pattern of the game, however, with Fulham dominating completely as both Dempsey and Damien Duff fired over when well placed. Bruce was prowling the touchline looking less than amused. His team have been a model of inconsistency this season, beating Liverpool and Arsenal but losing to Birmingham and Wigan.
His side were struggling, and twice nearly had the game put beyond their reach three minutes before the break, Zamora seeing his header come back off the crossbar after Paul Konchesky had provided an inch-perfect cross, before Nevland fired over after his original effort was saved by Marton Fulop. Bruce walked off with a face like thunder at half-time, but anyone expecting a change in attitude in the second period was to be sorely disappointed, as Fulham were immediately on the front foot. Dempsey is likely to be one of America's most dangerous players in the World Cup this summer and, after his country were drawn in the same group as England, he served notice of his talent by drilling a low shot just wide.
Yet astonishingly, Sunderland should have drawn level ten minutes into the second half. Konchesky was the man at fault, his shocking backpass allowing Jones in for a shot that was well saved by Mark Schwarzer, before Bent hammered a volley just wide of the post. Fulham suddenly remembered that they were just one goal to the good. Bruce brought on Fraizer Campbell and Boudewijn Zenden as his side began to chase the game, but following their flurry of chances just after half-time they were struggling to get past Aaron Hughes and Brede Hangeland at the heart of the Fulham defence and they closed out the game with ease to secure a deserved victory.