Prior to kickoff in the FA Cup fifth-round tie, Gus Poyet announced that the worst possible result for his side would not be a loss but a draw with Southampton, forcing Sunderland to squeeze yet another fixture into their already crowded schedule. Instead Sunderland managed the best possible result, a 1-0 victory that ensures they’re through to the next round – and possibly giving them a boost ahead of their league match with Arsenal and League Cup final against Manchester City.
As the camera panned around the mostly-empty stands during the first half, it soon became clear that it wasn’t the fans that had stayed home that had made a questionable decision, but rather the 16,000 or so that had managed to make it out for the match. Both sides struggled to create much of anything in the first 45 minutes, making for a rather dull affair.
The visitors’ best chance came in the 11th minute, after a lovely bit of attacking play from Southampton. Rickie Lambert got on the end of a cross from Adam Lallana to head across goal. James Ward-Prowse got his foot on the end of it, but Sunderland goalkeeper Oscar Ustari was up for the challenge.
Shortly thereafter, Sunderland had a good shout for a penalty, after Luke Shaw knocked over Fabio Borini inside the area. Nothing doing, but from then on, the hosts started turning the screws, looking the more likely of the two sides to score.
So it was really no surprise when the Black Cats opened the scoring, five minutes into the second half. The surprise was in the beauty of the goal. Craig Gardner sent his shot in from about 22 yards out, blasting it against the underside of the bar. Southampton ‘keeper Kelvin Davis had absolutely no chance of rescuing that one.
With an hour left to play, Mauricio Pochettino, who seemed to have fielded a weakened team from the start (eighth place must be important to the Saints?) made a double switch, bringing in Jay Rodriguez and Morgan Schneiderlin, sending off Guly and Ward-Prowse. But Poyet countered by adding more defensive-minded players which, combined with the Saints’ inability to finish in front of goal, ensured a victory for Sunderland – and reaffirmed the faith of those few that made it out to the Stadium of Light.
Sunderland: Ustari; Dossena (Alonso 77), O’Shea, Vergini, Celustka; Gardner (Colback 83), Cattermole, Larsson; Borini, Scocco (Wickham 69), Giaccherini
Goals: Gardner 49′
Southampton: K.Davis; Shaw, Hooiveld, Yoshida, Clyne; Wanyama, S.Davis; Guly (Rodriguez 62), Lallana (McQueen 82), Ward-Prowse (Schneiderlin 62); Lambert