Clint Dempsey scored his 23rd goal of the season to help Fulham to a deserved victory over Sunderland.

Dempsey, 29, added to his growing reputation by curling in a 25-yard free-kick to put the home side ahead.

Sunderland equalised when Phil Bardsley arrowed in a fierce shot only for Moussa Dembele's deflected strike to restore Fulham's lead within a minute.

Jol eyes record points tally

The visitors had a great chance to level late on but Fraizer Campbell slid a close range shot wide.

The victory moved Fulham just a point shy of their record haul of 53 in a Premier League season - set in 2008-09 when new England manager Roy Hodgson was in charge.

The Cottagers, with boss Martin Jol back in the dugout after missing the last two games with a chest infection, oozed confidence after four wins from their past six games and they passed the ball around with authority and fluency.

They took the lead through Dempsey and, while the American has already been attracting interest from potential suitors, his curling free-kick should add a few more clubs to his list of admirers.

Apart from the threat of Dempsey, other key Fulham contributions came from the gliding forward runs of Dembele and the midfield promptings of Danny Murphy, as well as the energy of winger Damien Duff.

Did you know?

  • Fulham failed to win any of their opening six Premier League games this season
  • Sunderland were languishing in the bottom three when Martin O'Neill replaced Steve Bruce as manager

Some of Sunderland's players knew their futures could be on the line with manager Martin O'Neill expected to embark on a summer of rebuilding in readiness for next season, when he hopes to stamp his mark more firmly on the side.

O'Neill may have steered his team away from relegation trouble since taking over in December but, despite showing their usual desire and determination, they lacked a goal threat until their equaliser came from an unlikely source.

Ji Dong-Won laid the ball off to right-back Bardsley and he hammered in a precise low strike past Fulham keeper Mark Schwarzer for only his second goal of the campaign.

The Black Cats then proved the adage that you are most vulnerable after scoring as they immediately went behind again.

Dembele ran unchallenged toward the visitors' goal and let fly with a strike which took a deflection off Michael Turner before looping into the top corner.

The goal reasserted Fulham's superiority and Dempsey was only denied a second when he had a shot cleared off the Sunderland goal-line by Jack Colback.

O'Neill blames Sunderland finishing

The introduction of Nicklas Bendtner and Campbell helped Sunderland stage a late rally and they almost punished Fulham for their profligacy.

Craig Gardner's long ball was knocked down by Bendtner but, with just keeper Schwarzer to beat, Campbell sent his angled shot wide of the far post as Fulham's last home game of the season ended in victory.

Fulham manager Martin Jol: "We had 49 points [before the game] and we were happy but this was the last game at home and you want to finish on a high note, which we did.

"We've got a nice combination. Young and experienced players. After November/December we have not looked back and are probably in the top six of the form table.

"Hopefully, he [Dempsey] will be here and our player next year."

Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill: "I think that we created some great openings, particularly in the second half.

"That [we didn't take them] was a frustration for us but we played well. Credit to Fulham as they played well themselves but we are a bit frustrated.

"We haven't got a player in double figures [for goals] this season and that speaks volumes for us."

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Live Text Commentary

90:00 +2:26 Full time

Full Time The game is over, as the referee blows his whistle.

90:00 +1:57

Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Craig Gardner, Brede Hangeland makes a clearance.

90:00 +1:46

Fraizer Campbell takes a shot. Save by Mark Schwarzer.

90:00 +1:22

The ball is crossed by Phillip Bardsley, Brede Hangeland makes a clearance.

89:42

Long range effort from Phillip Bardsley misses to the left of the target.

88:40

Shot by Chris Baird from outside the box goes high over the target.

88:13

Inswinging corner taken by Damien Duff from the right by-line.

88:05

Moussa Dembele takes a shot. Save by Simon Mignolet.

86:22

John Arne Riise challenges Fraizer Campbell unfairly and gives away a free kick. James McClean delivers the ball from the free kick left-footed from right wing, Mark Schwarzer makes a save.

83:57 Substitution

Substitution Chris Baird is brought on as a substitute for Danny Murphy.

83:02

James McClean takes the inswinging corner, save by Mark Schwarzer.

80:19 Substitution

Substitution Pavel Pogrebnyak goes off and Kerim Frei comes on.

80:19

Clint Dempsey fouled by Stephane Sessegnon, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick taken by Danny Murphy.

80:11

Pavel Pogrebnyak crosses the ball, John O'Shea makes a clearance.

78:17

The official flags Nicklas Bendtner offside. Mark Schwarzer takes the indirect free kick.

77:34

Michael Turner takes a shot. Mark Schwarzer makes a save.

76:54

Free kick awarded for a foul by Brede Hangeland on Fraizer Campbell. Direct free kick taken by James McClean.

76:12

Fraizer Campbell produces a right-footed shot from deep inside the area which goes wide of the left-hand post.

74:49

The ball is sent over by Stephen Kelly.

74:25

Michael Turner gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Pavel Pogrebnyak. Danny Murphy takes the direct free kick.

74:03

Clint Dempsey fouled by Lee Cattermole, the ref awards a free kick. John Arne Riise takes the free kick.

72:47

Nicklas Bendtner has an effort at goal from the edge of the box that misses to the right of the target.

72:10

Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Danny Murphy from the left by-line.

72:00

Moussa Dembele takes a shot. Simon Mignolet makes a save.

71:42

A cross is delivered by Fraizer Campbell.

69:59 Substitution

Substitution Fraizer Campbell replaces Matthew Kilgallon.

69:59

Free kick awarded for a foul by Lee Cattermole on Moussa Dembele. Free kick taken by Danny Murphy.

68:47

Michael Turner takes a shot. Blocked by Mahamadou Diarra.

67:47

Corner taken right-footed by Damien Duff, Phillip Bardsley makes a clearance.

65:25

John Arne Riise takes a shot from a long way out clearing the bar.

64:51

The ball is swung over by Stephen Kelly, Michael Turner manages to make a clearance. Corner from left by-line taken by Damien Duff.

63:52

Damien Duff produces a right-footed shot from the edge of the box and misses to the right of the goal.

62:34

James McClean takes a shot. Mark Schwarzer makes a save.

59:15

Clint Dempsey takes a shot.

59:15 Substitution

Substitution Dong-Won Ji goes off and Nicklas Bendtner comes on.

59:15

Michael Turner gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Moussa Dembele.

56:44

Damien Duff takes a shot. Save by Simon Mignolet.

56:28

Free kick awarded for a foul by Matthew Kilgallon on Clint Dempsey. Free kick taken by Moussa Dembele.

56:13

Craig Gardner is ruled offside. Brede Hangeland takes the free kick.

53:23

Dong-Won Ji fouled by John Arne Riise, the ref awards a free kick. John O'Shea takes the direct free kick.

53:14

Stephen Kelly takes a shot. Save by Simon Mignolet.

51:46

Inswinging corner taken by Damien Duff, Clint Dempsey takes a shot. Clearance by Jack Colback. Corner from the left by-line taken by Damien Duff, free kick awarded for a foul by Mahamadou Diarra on Michael Turner. Simon Mignolet restarts play with the free kick.

51:27

A cross is delivered by Damien Duff, Pavel Pogrebnyak takes a shot. John O'Shea gets a block in.

50:47

Lee Cattermole challenges John Arne Riise unfairly and gives away a free kick. John Arne Riise takes the free kick.

49:07

Centre by James McClean, John Arne Riise makes a clearance.

45:43

Craig Gardner gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Pavel Pogrebnyak. Direct free kick taken by Mahamadou Diarra.

45:01

The referee gets the second half started.

45:00 +1:04 Half time

Half Time It is the end of the first-half.

44:41

James McClean takes a shot. Save by Mark Schwarzer.

41:57

John Arne Riise challenges Stephane Sessegnon unfairly and gives away a free kick. Craig Gardner produces a strike on goal direct from the free kick.

39:41

Inswinging corner taken left-footed by Damien Duff.

38:46

Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Mahamadou Diarra by Dong-Won Ji. Free kick taken by Aaron Hughes.

38:14

Effort from the edge of the box by Damien Duff goes wide of the right-hand upright.

37:44

The official flags Craig Gardner offside. Direct free kick taken by Brede Hangeland.

36:24

John Arne Riise crosses the ball, clearance by Lee Cattermole.

34:17

The assist for the goal came from John Arne Riise.

34:17 Goal scored

Goal! - Moussa Dembele - Fulham 2 - 1 Sunderland Moussa Dembele finds the net with a goal from just outside the box to the top left corner of the goal. Fulham 2-1 Sunderland.

33:16

Dong-Won Ji provided the assist for the goal.

33:16 Goal scored

Goal! - Phillip Bardsley - Fulham 1 - 1 Sunderland Phillip Bardsley fires in a goal from a long way out to the bottom right corner of the goal. Fulham 1-1 Sunderland.

31:23

Unfair challenge on Stephen Kelly by Dong-Won Ji results in a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Aaron Hughes.

30:21

Craig Gardner crosses the ball.

28:16

Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Jack Colback by Pavel Pogrebnyak. Direct free kick taken by Lee Cattermole.

25:03

Foul by Phillip Bardsley on Stephen Kelly, free kick awarded. Centre by Danny Murphy, Effort on goal by Clint Dempsey from just inside the box goes harmlessly over the target.

21:45

Pavel Pogrebnyak takes a shot. Blocked by Michael Turner.

20:20

Mahamadou Diarra takes a shot. Matthew Kilgallon gets a block in.

19:16

Clint Dempsey takes a shot. Blocked by Michael Turner.

17:43

Danny Murphy gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Stephane Sessegnon. Stephane Sessegnon takes the free kick. Aaron Hughes gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Dong-Won Ji. Direct free kick taken by Lee Cattermole.

15:36

Stephane Sessegnon takes a shot. Mark Schwarzer makes a save.

12:45

A cross is delivered by John Arne Riise.

11:06

Assist on the goal came from Mahamadou Diarra.

11:06 Goal scored

Goal! - Clint Dempsey - Fulham 1 - 0 Sunderland Clint Dempsey finds the net with a shot from the free kick. Fulham 1-0 Sunderland.

10:13

Mahamadou Diarra fouled by Lee Cattermole, the ref awards a free kick.

8:37

Damien Duff takes a shot. Blocked by Lee Cattermole.

7:44

Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Moussa Dembele by Lee Cattermole. Moussa Dembele restarts play with the free kick.

6:58

Moussa Dembele takes a shot. Blocked by Jack Colback.

6:45

Damien Duff takes a inswinging corner.

6:34

Damien Duff takes a shot. Save by Simon Mignolet.

5:18

Foul by Moussa Dembele on Stephane Sessegnon, free kick awarded. Craig Gardner produces a strike on goal direct from the free kick.

4:38

The ball is crossed by Damien Duff.

0:22

The ball is swung over by Craig Gardner, clearance by Aaron Hughes.

0:00

The ref blows the whistle to begin the match.

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