Paolo Di Canio will be rueing his Sunderland side’s inability to turn chances into goals after they lost 1-0 to Fulham at the Stadium of Light.
Fulham’s Macedonian striker Pajtim Kasami bulleted a header home for the visitors early in the second half – but Di Canio will argue that his team at least deserved a share of the points.
The Black Cats’ new-look midfield impressed in the first 45, and the best chance of the half fell to Czech defender Ondrej Celustka, whose 25-yard drive had new Fulham keeper Maarten Stekelenburg stretching to keep it out.
Fulham took the lead when Kasami powered a header home from a Damien Duff corner after 52 minutes – their first real chance of the game. But having gone behind, Sunderland were unable to rebuild much momentum.
US striker Jozy Altidore looked busy all game, and he came close to poking the ball home after a shot from Emanuele Giaccherini was deflected towards goal, but Stekelenburg was able to save – though he was injured in doing so and had to be replaced on his debut.
PRE_MATCH: Di Canio plays five of his new boys, Bent remains on bench for Fulham - Celustka, Roberge, Cabral, Giaccherini and Altidore all start for the Black Cats, but former Sunderland striker Darren Bent, Fulham's recent loan signing, is only a substitute.
35' - SUNDERLAND CHANCE: Czech defender Ondrej Celustka hits a drive from 25 yards towards the top-right corner of Fulham's goal - but Dutch international keeper Maarten Stekelenburg stretches acrobatically to tip the ball over. Had that gone in, Sunderland looked capable of winning the game after an impressive opening period.
52' - GOAL: Sunderland 0 Fulham 1 - Berbatov wins a corner which is taken by Damien Duff on Fulham's right. It reaches Pajtim Kasami on the left of the six-yard box and he powers home a header. It's Fulham's first chance of the game.
64' - SUNDERLAND CHANCE: Altidore snap-shot goes close - the American striker, who is impressive throughout,bamboozles Hughes on the edge of the Fulham box and spins to shoot, but the effort goes just wide of the left-hand post.
73' - SUNDERLAND CHANCE: Altidore one-on-one with Stekelenburg - after good work by Adam Johnson on the right, his cross is mis-hit by Emanuele Giaccherini and breaks to the US international. Stekelenburg is quick to smother the danger - but injures his shoulder in doing so, and has to be substituted on his debut.
TALKING POINT: Where is the cutting edge in the Sunderland team? The Black Cats' midfield looked impressive in the first half, moving the ball around well, but the final ball was often lacking - and when it wasn't, there was rarely a striker in red and white on hand to capitalise. But Paolo Di Canio needn't panic just yet - with Altidore finding his feet, and Steven Fletcher to come back from injury into Sunderland's attack, things are likely to improve.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Jozy Altidore (Sunderland): He might have ended up on the losing side, but the American's debut showed a lot of promise. He was energetic and sparky, and with more luck might have had a goal.
Sunderland: Westwood 6, Celustka 7, Colback 7, O’Shea 6, Roberge 6, Cabral 7, Larsson 6, Johnson 7, Giaccherini 7, Sessegnon 6, Altidore 8. Subs: Wickham 6, Dong-won 6.
Fulham: Stekelenburg 7, Riether 6, Richardson 5, Hughes 7, Hangeland 7, Taraabt 5, Sidwell 5, Boateng 5, Duff 6, Kasami 7, Berbatov 6. Subs: Stockdale 6, Karagounis 6, Briggs 7.
THE MATCH IN A TWEET