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What a week. Can we extend the season by another two months - we might be challenging for a Champions League place? Blitzed by injuries, Sunderland saw plenty of the ball, especially in the first 45, but were clueless around the box. We were a little loose in giving the ball up too easily ourselves, but even from the outset, with our front two feeding off what long ball scraps came their way, you sensed there was altogether more venom about Fulham's play.
With three changes and Senderos playing his first senior game of football in almost a year, it's not surprising we started less fluently than the Bolton game. Hearing the line up was minus top scorer Clint, the mazy master Moussa, and the Rock of the North Brede, not many were predicting a three zip romp, even against Brucie's misfit forwards.
But promising early link up play between Bobby and Eidur saw BZ set up the Icelander for a shot he blazed over, while the combo might well have seen us open the scoring had Eidur's pass to Bobby not been marginally overhit. Two on one, Zamo would have been in on goal had he been able to collect. The opener however was not far off. Again it was the twin target men holding up the ball in the box. Bobby read Kakuta's dart away from his man and bingo, his first goal in English football was tucked underneath the keeper from close range.
After half-time there was only one team in it. Sunderland fell away, what few openings they had were all too close to Schwarzer, whose handling throughout was exemplary, and Simon Davies capped another excellent display with two goals. The first was instigated again by Bobby putting Sidwell clear on the left, at pace his cut back was drilled into the bottom corner by Davies on the charge. And it was assist number three for man of the match BZ when his early dink again opened up the Sunderland back line for Davies to profit with another all too easy score.
The manager inscrutably watched it all from his seat, looking as if he'd swallowed a wasp. So what do we make of Sparky now? With 35 played we are looking comfortable for a top half finish - exactly as Hughes was predicting at the turn of the year when we briefly visited the bottom three. Zamora's performance here, just his 10th appearance of this campaign, underlined his credentials as one of the EPL's outstanding target men in the way he plays his role.
While much of the credit must go to Roy for the way he improved so many of our first teamers, despite all the doubts when he arrived in the job, Hughes has never sought to overturn Hodgson's methods. Our disciplinary record remains as unblemished as it was with Hodgson. Now Hughes stands on the brink of emulating what good ol' Roy managed two seasons ago. A finish just outside the top 6 and Europa League football. Not bad for a 'little' club.
With a full summer to build on what we currently have, and there's a rumoured war chest of £20 million available, there's every sign that Hughes can produce the magic wand that takes us on to another level. Over the course of 35 games Mark remains a wily bird to read. He is clearly very much his own man, and gives nothing away. He's had a fair few supporters tearing their hair out over the past week with his juggling of the team, but he must be doing something right on the evidence of the last two wins and the attitude shown by the players.
Bobby didn't look comfortable out there from the start of the 2nd half. Whatever niggle he was carrying, Hughes kept him on till the game was won, and there was no sign of a moan from the big fella either when he finally came off. Many have posted that the real competition for places seems to be having a telling effect. What a warming sight it is to see Etuhu coming on to charge around for 20 minutes against a tiring side. A bit like an oil tanker steaming across a duck pond!
This thumping away win - albeit against a weakened side, will cause more than a few to sit up and take notice. We ourselves remember were today deprived of four major international stars. Let's hope all have recovered to be in the mix for when we face Liverpool in 9 days time. With both that and the Arsenal sold out, we could be in for a thrilling climax to the season.
Will it be champagne or soft drinks too tonight for Kit Symon's Academy side? Three down at HT in their final game v Leicester at Motspur Park, they rattled in five to win 5-3 and finish the season top of their league. Also, on the subject of the next generation - great to see Danny Hoesen included among the subs today. He will have got a tremendous thrill being part of the big match team.
I shall enjoy your banter this week in the build up to Liverpool. Not least because I shall be reading it on my laptop from the South of France (hard life isn't it?). Keep your views coming. No place even on the bench now for Pants and Zollie, we've seen the last of them I fear. Also heading for the exit door Kamara, Riise, Dikgacoi...AJ??? But we won't be hearing any shouts of "Hughes Out" for a while.
"Oh Fulham, we love you"
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