07/11/2015: Sunderland 0-1 Saints
Saints maintained their unbeaten away record with a 1-0 win at Sunderland. Ronald Koeman's side played ok in the first-half, and pretty well in the second.
Koeman made a few mildly surprising changes to his starting eleven. Maya Yoshida came in for Cedric at right-back, while James Ward-Prowse was preferred to Oriol Romeu in the absence of the suspended Victor Wanyama. Saints used only one out-and-out holding midfielder, with Ward-Prowse and Steven Davis generally operating further forward in the centre of midfield.
The first 15 minutes of the game were quite stop-start. Saints tried to utilise the flanks in the early going. The away side certainly showed more quality than their opponents in the attacking third, but there wasn't enough intensity to Saints' play. Jordy Clasie tried his luck from distance on 8, shooting just over the bar. Sadio Mane then fired well wide.
On 16 Dusan Tadic had his shot saved by the legs of the keeper after some neat combination play with Graziano Pelle. Six minutes later Mane stung Costel Pantilimon's gloves. Tadic was flagged offside on the follow-up.
Although Saints had the ball in Sunderland's half for the majority of the time, some of the attacking play was frustrating, with several moves breaking down at the last moment. Ward-Prowse had a strike blocked on the edge of the area. Ola Toivonen's wild shot summed up Sunderland's afternoon.
Saints immediately upped the tempo at the start of the second-half. The visitors put together some decent interchanges, and were beginning to find openings closer to goal. Mane did well to get away from his man before shooting straight at Pantilimon on 52. Mane and Pelle then both had shots blocked from Tadic's delivery. Davis had a shot cleared off the line before Yoshida just missed a header at the far post after Pelle had flicked the ball on from a corner.
For a long time it felt certain the game would end 0-0. That was until minute 68 when Yann M'Vila rashly stuck out a leg to bring down Ryan Bertrand in the box. Tadic stepped up to send the ball into the corner of the net, past the reach of Pantilimon.
Having shown absolutely nothing going forward previously, Sunderland did offer a brief response to Saints' opener. Maarten Stekelenburg saved well from Fabio Borini, before Adam Johnson curled a free-kick just over the bar. That was about it though. Sunderland attempted to go long during the last 15 minutes, but Saints dealt with that with ease. The away side didn't have too many further chances, but did a professional job in closing the game out.
Once again a trip to the Stadium of Light didn't produce too much in the way of entertainment, but for the first time since promotion Saints picked up all three points. Koeman's men were the superior side throughout, even during periods of the game when they weren't at their best. Sunderland were beyond awful, but Saints did play some good stuff at times and the team performed as a unit. Victor Wanyama's absence wasn't really noticeable on this occasion.
Stekelenburg: 6. Made one big save just after Saints had taken the lead
Yoshida: 6. Got caught in possession a couple of times, but didn't let much get past him
Fonte: 6. Made a few good last ditch challenges, throwing his body in the way of danger
van Dijk: 7. Coped well with Sunderland's late aerial bombardment and also displayed some silky skills on the ball
Bertrand: 6. Won the penalty and contributed to other attacks with some direct runs down the left
Clasie: 7. Another improved display. Set the tone from just in front of the back four with a decent range of passing
Davis: 7. Showed the usual classy touches and good work-rate
Ward-Prowse: 7. Stood up to the physical demands of the game and some great delivery
Mane: 6. Decision making let him down in the first-half, but brighter after the break
Tadic: 7. Found decent pockets of space throughout. Final ball a bit of let down in the first-half, but much improved in the second
Pelle: 6. Not involved too much early on, but played the target man role to good effect in the second-half, holding the ball up and laying the ball off when appropriate
Romeu: Continued Clasie's good work in the middle of the park
Juanmi: Got a few decent touches in the latter stages of the game
Caulker: Used as an extra body in the box during stoppage time
Saints: Tadic (69)
Attendance: 41,781 (941 Saints fans)
Referee: Michael Jones
Sunderland line-up: Pantilimon, Yedlin, Coates, Kaboul, Jones, M'Vila, Gomez (Defoe 74), Johnson, Toivonen (Borini 46), Watmore, Fletcher (Rodwell 70)
Subs not used: Mannone, van Aanholt, Brown, Lens
Saints line-up: Stekelenburg, Yoshida, Fonte, van Dijk, Bertrand, Clasie (Romeu 78), S Davis, Ward-Prowse, Mane (Juanmi 83), Tadic (Caulker 90), Pelle
Subs not used: K Davis, Cedric, Martina, Seager