Sunderland boss keeping a broad overview

THROUGH THE MIDDLE: Mikael Mandron yesterday.
THROUGH THE MIDDLE: Mikael Mandron yesterday.
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GUS POYET is clearly having a fresh look at his options.

After the manner of Sunderland’s defeat at Norwich City, it would be naive not to.

Connor Wickham has already been recalled from his loan spell at Leeds United after yet another below-par display from Jozy Altidore, while the Sunderland head coach - along with all of his coaching staff - were interested spectators as the Under-21s recorded a 1-0 victory over Fulham yesterday afternoon.

There were five first-team contenders for Poyet to consider. In all likelihood, none will get any further than the bench at Liverpool tomorrow night – the inclusion of Ondrej Celustka, in particular, giving a strong indication that Andrea Dossena will start at Anfield.

But nothing can be ruled out now in the battle for survival. To be frank, Poyet needs to keep abreast of the likes of Charis Mavrias and El-Hadji Ba if Sunderland are to fail in their bid to remain in the Premier League.

Carlos Cuellar was the pick of the bunch as the Spaniard coasted through the encounter; marshalling the defence excellently and outmuscling Fulham’s rookie attack.

Ba produced a couple of eye-catching crossfield passes, while Mavrias showed some neat footwork, albeit he suffered from a lack of finesse with his final ball.

Overall, the strength of Sunderland’s side saw them dominate the encounter, with the only downside that Kevin Ball’s men didn’t secure victory by a more handsome margin as they moved up to fourth in the U21 Premier League.

However, Valentin Roberge, had a let-off in the eighth minute when he clattered into Fulham striker Moussa Dembele right on the edge of the area.

Referee Ian Turner waved play on before the ball rolled loose to Lasse Vigen Christensen, in space 18 yards out, but the midfielder curled his right-footed shot wide of the far post.

But it was Sunderland who broke the deadlock in the 18th minute when Mikael Mandron held the ball up well 15 yards out and fed Jordan Laidler, who tucked it inside the near post.

Laidler almost netted a quick-fire double after being denied by an excellent save from Fulham stopper Jesse Joronen five minutes later.

Sunderland worked a clever free-kick routine 25 yards out before Laidler hit a sweet right-footed shot which was heading towards the top corner, only for Joronen to dive full-length to his left and tip it around the post.

Fulham went close to leveling in the 26th minute when a loose ball rolled into the path of Lyle Della Verde, 20 yards out, and the Cottagers frontman hit a first-time left-footed shot which curled just the wrong side of the post.

Laidler lifted a left-footed shot over the bar in the 48th minute, before the woodwork saved Sunderland three minutes later when Fulham midfielder Joshua Pritchard let fly from 25 yards with a powerful drive that was tipped onto the top of the crossbar by Joel Dixon.

Sunderland should then have doubled their advantage when Laidler slipped a beautifully-weighted through-ball for Louis Laing, who had just Joronen to beat.

But the Fulham keeper spread himself well and blocked Laing’s attempt to tuck it under his body.

In stoppage time, George Honeyman should have sealed the three points when he was sent clear on goal by Lynden Gooch on the counter-attack from a Fulham corner.

Honeyman had an age to pick his spot, but as he tried to round Joronen, the keeper plucked the ball from his feet.

Ball said: “I thought the goal we scored was excellent and we had some other chances. Their keeper made some great saves.

“We probably should have won by more goals.

“When you’re only winning 1-0, there’s always a chance that the opposition are going to push you to equalise.

“George, who I thought was outstanding, went one-on-one and you just thought ‘finish it’ and that would have been game over.

“Unfortunately, he didn’t, but I thought there were some very good performances.”

SUNDERLAND: Dixon, Celustka, Robson, Ba (Oliver 85), Cuellar, Roberge (Harrison 63), Mavrias, Laing, Mandron (Gooch 90), Laidler, Honeyman. Subs not used: Stryjek, Smith.

FULHAM: Joronen, Passley, Banya, Pritchard, Buatu, Burgess, Evans (Smile 67), Christensen, Dembele (O’Halloran 17, Islamovic 54)), Della Verde, Plumain. Subs not used: Oberschmidt, Brister.