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Sunderland AFC v southampton (A)...
match report

Sunderland drew 1-1 away at Southampton in a game where we took the lead through a late Jermain Defoe penalty, but threw it away just minutes later after a Jay Rodriguez fizzer beat Jordan Pickford. It was an improved performance, but there is still plenty of work to be done, particularly with the transfer window soon to close.

After a disappointing performance against Middlesbrough, in a game that might have been a local derby if we won it, Sunderland were looking to register at least their first point of the campaign away at Southampton. With injury problems and a lack of transfers making the squad look a little depleted, fans were appropriately nervous about the starting XI. The teamsheet came as a pleasant surprise, however.

Manquillo, Djilobodji, Kone, van Aanholt
Gooch, Pienaar, Rodwell
Borini, Defoe, Januzaj

Jordan Pickford started in place of Vito Mannone, who picked up an elbow injury during the week and could be out for up to three months. Manquillo also completed a loan move from Atletico Madrid, and so slotted in to replace Donald Love, thankfully. Pienaar also started instead of McNair, who’s midfield performance against Boro could be described as open to interpretation, much like the end of The Sopranos. Defoe captain.

But for an early Sunderland free kick, Southampton dominated the opening proceedings, with Tadic and Austin the most threatening players for the home side. Austin took an early opportunity to put pressure on young Jordan Pickford, charging into the Sunderland goalkeeper, perhaps to establish a mental and physical edge. It had no bearing on proceedings though, with Pickford pulling off a great stop in the 11th minute to deny the prolific striker. He denied Austin again in the 17th minute, after a great ball from Steven Davis carved the Sunderland defence open, though the striker had already drifted offside.

Despite a much-improved starting XI, Sunderland didn’t look particularly comfortable for the opening 20 minutes, sacrificing possession regularly and needlessly. Southampton looked to attack down their right-hand side, and the unfamiliar Sunderland defence were happy just to get rid of the ball as opposed to trying to do something for it. It was understandable in the opening stages of the game, but as the match went on, it encouraged the Saints to push up the field.

The best chance of the game ironically fell to Lamine Kone, after a great ball from Patrick van Aanholt found the head of the Ivorian defender. It was a great chance from just a few yards out, but Kone could not find the target, to the bemusement of the travelling support. There was also a shout for a penalty as the cross came in, after Borini was pushed over on the edge of the six-yard box. The referee wasn’t having it though.

Around 35 minutes in, Sunderland had finally dug their claws into the game. Our midfield had found their feet, and Steven Pienaar was pulling the strings, just as he had tried to against Middlesbrough. Janujaz and Gooch were eager to take players on, while Borini’s persistent wide runs offered options to get in behind. Jermain Defoe also threatened often, on one occasion nicking the ball from the feet of Jose Fonte, but unable to control it before the keeper gathered. Newly signed Javier Manquillo was also joining the attacks, and looked both more comfortable and more competent than Donald Love, though that isn’t really anything to brag about.

Half-time arrived and Sunderland looked the better team in the latter stages. While our midfield was hardly a steady unit, Southampton weren’t creating much either. This trend continued into the second half where the home side would regularly attempt defence-splitting passes, but failed to operate in sync with the runs of their frontman, Charlie Austin. Southampton supporters seemed very impatient with the way their team were playing, which was understandable given that Sunderland aren’t a team who you would set up defensively against at home.

A great chance came for Sunderland after Januzaj skipped between a number of Southampton players, showcasing the type of footwork that shone a light on him in the early stages of his career. He was hacked down on the edge of the box, with Borini eager to take the free kick. Unfortunately, Fabio scuffed the shot and it rolled into the keeper’s hands. To Fabio’s embarrassment, he injured himself in the process, and was replaced by Watmore not a minute later. Pienaar also went off for Jeremain Lens, after being booked for a clumsy challenge.

While the game was generally neither here nor there for the majority of the second half, the Saints began to see more of the ball from the 70-minute mark onwards. Pickford was called to action on more than once occasion, but the Washington-born ‘keeper was never pushed outside of his comfort zone, especially in relation to crosses, where he plucked the ball from the air like apples from trees. Donald Love came on for Lynden Gooch, who was knackered and had faded out of the game. Gooch wasn’t as effective today as he had been in his previous two outings.

Lens had looked threatening since coming on, and after Sunderland wasted a chance he engineered just minutes earlier, the winger’s head didn’t drop. He bombed up the right hand side with the ball, and found Defoe who had curved his run in the centre. The defender, Jose Fonte, couldn’t handle the nippy striker, and so tripped him over to prevent the shot from being taken. A clear penalty, which the referee had a good view of.

GOAL – Sunderland – 79 mins – Jermain Defoe

Jermain Defoe was the one who stepped up to take the penalty, with the striker’s exemplary record speaking for itself in those situations. He lashed the ball so hard that I think he may have re-injured Fabio Borini. 1-0.

Southampton responded well, sending bodies forward to make it difficult for Sunderland to hang onto the lead. And it paid off.

GOAL – Southampton – 85 mins – Jay Rodriguez

Just as the whole of Wearside was singing the praises of Jordan Pickford for a thoroughly solid performance, a shot from 25 yards goes underneath him and into the net. It had plenty of fizz on it, it wasn’t a howler, as I’m sure will be the word used to describe it. Pickford will be gutted to have let that beat him though, especially after an otherwise impressive performance.

The rest of the game was spent effectively weathering the storm of Southampton, who had found a new burst of energy thanks to the introduction of Shane Long. Djilobodji pulled off a ferocious block to deny Southampton a shot at goal, but nearly let him down seconds later after going to ground in the box. Luckily, Long stayed on his feet and sent a cross in, but it was cleared well.

The full-time whistle blew, and Sunderland fans could breathe a sigh of relief given how the game was going. It’s disappointing to take the lead only for evens to be restored just minutes later, but we have to look at that as a good point away from home. It was a far better team performance, but there’s still a lot of improvements that can be made, particularly in midfield, where neither Gooch nor Rodwell were really in the game. That said, Rodders did last the 90 minutes, and strangled the game effectively when called upon.

Final Score: Southampton 1-1 Sunderland

ALS Man of the Match:
Jermain Defoe

Chris Thompson

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