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Sunderland slump to opening-day home defeat
Final Score: Sunderland 0 Fulham 1
SUNDERLAND'S season started on a disappointing note as Paolo Di Canio's new-look side slumped to a 1-0 home defeat to Fulham.
Pajtim Kasami's second-half header condemned the Black Cats to an opening-day reverse, even though they controlled the majority of a keenly-contested encounter.
Sunderland created a number of opportunities from distance, but paid a heavy price for their inability to get behind a well-drilled Fulham defence.
The Cottagers only recorded one effort on target all afternoon, but it was enough to secure all three points as Di Canio's summer changes failed to have the desired effect.
The Sunderland boss handed a debut to five of his summer signings, with Ondrej Celustka, Valentin Roberge, Cabral, Emanuele Giaccherini and Jozy Altidore all making the starting line-up.
Fulham boss Martin Jol named three debutants in his side, but there was no place for former Sunderland striker Darren Bent, who was named on the bench.
The Black Cats started brightly, and Altidore tried his luck for the first time in the second minute with a long-range shot that was deflected wide.
Cabral also dragged an early shot wide, although Roberge was pressed into action early on to charge down an effort from Pajtim Kasami on the edge of the area.
Fulham's plans had to be altered midway through the first half when former Sunderland full-back Kieran Richardson was forced off with what appeared to be a hamstring injury.
And the visitors spent the remainder of the first half on the back foot as Sunderland dictated the pace of the game.
Cabral shot wide from 25 yards after good work on the left from Giaccherini, before Altidore just failed to connect with a low delivery from Jack Colback on the left-hand side.
Giaccherini was lively throughout the opening period, and he drilled a 25-yard drive straight at Fulham goalkeeper Marten Stekelenburg ten minutes before the interval.
That was a routine save for the Dutch shot-stopper, but he produced a much better one moments later to deny Celustka what would have been a sensational debut goal.
The Czech full-back controlled a bouncing ball from Colback on his chest and fired in a dipping half-volley that was destined for the top corner before Stekelenburg tipped it over the crossbar.
Sunderland continued to dominate right up to the break, but Cabral was unable to direct his header from Giaccherini's cross at the target.
The second half started in the same fashion, with Johnson drilling over from 22 yards, but completely out of the blue, Fulham broke the deadlock in the 52nd minute.
Damien Duff swung over the Cottagers' first corner of the game from the right-hand side, and Kasami out-jumped Roberge at the back post to head home.
It was a disappointingly soft goal for Sunderland to concede, and it took the hosts a while to recover their composure.
Altidore went close in the 65th minute, receiving a long ball from Celustka with his back to goal and turning adeptly past Aaron Hughes, but dragging his shot wide of the left-hand post.
Di Canio made his first change with 19 minutes left, introducing Ji Dong-won for Sessegnon, who had made precious little impact on the Fulham defence.
Johnson teed up Giaccherini shortly after, but the Italian's side-footed effort from 14 yards was blocked by Hughes.
The rebound almost ran to Altidore, and Stekelenburg injured himself as he prevented the Sunderland striker reaching the ball.
He was replaced by former Darlington goalkeeper David Stockdale, but the replacement didn't have to make a save as the Black Cats wasted their best chance of the game in the final minute.
Johnson crossed from the right, but Ji somehow directed his header wide of the left-hand post from just six yards out.
Sunderland (4-4-1-1): Westwood; Celustka (Wickham 86), Roberge, O'Shea, Colback; Johnson, Larsson, Cabral, Giaccherini; Sessegnon (Ji 77); Altidore.
Subs (not used): Mannone (gk), Diakite, Cuellar, Ba, Karlsson.
Fulham (4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg (Stockdale 76); Riether, Hangeland, Hughes, Richardson (Briggs 20); Sidwell, Boateng (Karagounis 65); Duff, Kasami, Taarabt; Berbatov.
Subs (not used): Senderos, Ruiz, Rodallega, Bent.
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