When a mid-to-lower championship side comes up against a mid-to-lower Premier side the difference in class is usually palpable and it was last night when Sunderland beat Fulham 3-1 to remove us from the FA Cup.
The game turned on a grotesque error by Marcus Bettinelli, our keeper, whose transition from youth to senior player, what Stefano calls a titoloare (no exact English equivalent but descriptive of player who holds that position) is only beaten by Christensen. Christensen was on the bench, Chris David gone as has presumably Ruiz too so it was in midfield that the greatest disparity lay. For some reason best known to himself, Kit did not play Ross MacCormack up front where recently he has been scoring freely but preferred Rodallega and Woodrow who have not.
After Sunderland had all the play in the first twenty minutes, we managed to impose ourselves. From a rather streaky corner, the ball fell to Rodallega who scored. So we were a goal up but, to use a word that the Chairman often adopts, was this “sustainable”? In a word, no. We might have hung on longer had not Bettinelli dropped a simple cross under the post into the net. It will be interesting to see how the young keeper copes with this. Every report will feature it in critical terms. Fulham’s greatest ever keeper Edwin Van der Sar made a few errors but was mentally so strong it never affected him. Many young keepers never recover. It’s the 40th anniversary of us reaching the Cup Final and West Ham’s keeper that day was young Mervyn Day. A save he made from John Mitchell turned the game. Much was expected of him but that he never trained on was due to the mistakes he made often in front of the TV camera.
Sunderland added another two. The third was galling as it was a penalty which the referee had early denied to Fulham. I am never one to blame referees for defeats where they are deserved but certainly the referee seemed influenced by the railing of Gus Poyet and his decisions favoured the away side.
Before the game we listed the sides in the championship that not so long ago enjoyed a higher status: Middlesbrough, Blackburn, Blackpool, Bolton, Cardiff, Charlton, Derby, Ipswich, Reading, Wigan. You can add Fulham to that list and if you let talented players go but do not replace them then we will stay there – or worse – for many seasons to come.