05/03/2016: Saints 1-1 Sunderland
Saints salvaged a point deep into stoppage time after going behind late in the game. The contest took quite a while to get going, but did produce some lively action in the second-half. Saints showed a fair amount of urgency without a great deal of quality.
Ronald Koeman went back to basics, starting with a back four and three just in behind lone striker Graziano Pelle. Both sides were slightly tentative, without being overly cautious in the first-half. Saints had some decent spells of possession, but failed to establish much flow in the attacking third. Ryan Bertrand's 12th minute free-kick swerved just over the bar.
Dusan Tadic forced Vito Mannone into a great save on 26. Sunderland weren't quite as cynical as previous Sam Allardyce teams. They broke effectively on occasions, and crafted a few good openings. Wahbi Khazri's free-kick almost caught out Fraser Forster. At the other end Virgil van Dijk connected well with a header from a corner, but couldn't quite get it past Mannone. Jack Rodwell missed a good chance on 39, before Oriol Romeu tested Mannone at the other end within the same minute.
The start of the second-half was quite scrappy. Sunderland edged the early stages. Fabio Borini's 52nd minute strike looked to be dipping in, only to land just over the bar. Forster got down to save from the Italian again a few moments later.
Saints made a double substitution on 65, with James Ward-Prowse and Juanmi coming on for Jordy Clasie and Steven Davis. Sunderland dropped deeper during the last 30 minutes, with Saints attempting to stretch the play down the flanks. Pelle had a couple of shots blocked and a few crosses went unfinished.
On 79 Jose Fonte was sent off for hauling down Borini, who had broken through on the edge of the area. The game initially swung in Sunderland's favour, and on 85 they scored what most presumed would be the winner. Lamine Kone squared the ball for Jermaine Defoe, who completed a classy finish in the centre of the box. Saints responded well in search of an equaliser. The home side had plenty of pressure and it was never obvious they were a man down. The leveller finally arrived on 93. van Dijk brilliantly hooked the ball into the corner of the net from Dusan Tadic's low pass. Saints stormed forward during what little time was left after that, but the referee blew for full-time before the team had the chance to look for a winner.
A fair result in the end. Saints battled hard late on in what was a fairly evenly matched game. Given the number of players missing it should probably be considered a decent point. The football wasn't that easy on the eye, but Koeman's men did at least show some character towards the end. With Fonte now suspended Saints will be further stretched. Saints have a tough run of games coming up, and it's difficult to see how the rest of the season will pan out right now.
Forster: 6. Made one misjudgement and one very good save, but otherwise a fairly routine performance
Martina: 6. Offered a fairly good outlet going forward, using his pace to good effect. Gave the ball away cheaply a couple of times at the back
Fonte: 6. A mixed afternoon. Made one particularly important tackle in the first-half and generally solid before his red card
van Dijk: 7. Rescued a point and consistently strong in the air
Bertrand: 6. Threatened a couple of times going forward, but occasionally a bit sloppy at the back
Clasie: 6. Broke up play effectively once again
Romeu: 6. Looked quite sluggish during the opening 30 minutes or so, but offered good energy for most of the 2nd half
Davis: 6. Offered decent options for his teammates by constantly showing for the ball
Tadic: 6. Blew hot and cold all afternoon. Provided the assist for the goal and some tricky wing play, mixed in with some frustrating moments
Mane: 6. Showed a good first touch and a solid use of the ball without being overly explosive
Pelle: 6. Not really aggressive enough in the air or on the ground, but some decent link-up play. Played his part in the build-up to the goal
Ward-Prowse: 6. Improved things slightly with some energetic running
Juanmi: 6. Direct running gave Saints another outlet during the closing stages
Yoshida: Should have done better in the build-up to the Sunderland goal
Saints: van Dijk (90)
Sunderland: Defoe (85)
Attendance: 31,458 (2,317 Sunderland fans)
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Saints line-up: Forster, Martina, Fonte, van Dijk, Bertrand, Clasie (Juanmi 65), Romeu, Mane (Yoshida 82), S Davis (Ward-Prowse 65), Tadic, Pelle
Subs not used: Stekelenburg, Cedric, Reed, Olomola
Sunderland line-up: Mannone, Yedlin, Kone, Kaboul, van Aanholt, Kirchhoff (O'Shea 90), M'Vila, Rodwell, Borini, Khazri (Larsson 76), N'Doye (Defoe 59)
Subs not used: Pickford, Jones, Mandron, Toivonen