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Jason Puncheon came off the bench to rescue a point for Southampton against fellow strugglers Sunderland. Puncheon came on for Adam Lallana just minutes after Phil Bardsley had opened the scoring for the home side with a well-taken strike.
Craig Gardner's red card against Stoke City last week meant that Bardsley was handed a start in defence, allowing Jack Colback to play a more advanced role in midfield. Danny Rose played what could be his last game for Sunderland, as he is ineligible to face parent club Tottenham Hotspur on the final day. Southampton also made just one change from the side that lost at White Hart Lane, welcoming back Morgan Schneiderlin after a thigh injury.
It was the visitors who started the game the brighter, dominating possession in the midfield, with Lallana looking particularly lively. But Southampton could not make their superiority in the middle of the park count, with Rickie Lambert wasting a rare decent opportunity just after five minutes.
The 31-year-old was involved again just before the half-hour mark, forcing Simon Mignolet into smart save after a decent drive from distance. It was Mignolet's 100th appearance for Sunderland, and he was called into action again just minutes later, parrying away Jay Rodriguez's crashing effort from the edge of the box.
The home fans became frustrated as the first half progressed, with the visitors continuing to press. Rose was very nearly punished for a poor headed clearance near his own penalty area, but Lallana could only fire wide.
Five minutes before the break, though, Sunderland had a good opportunity of their own, when John O'Shea flicked on Seb Larsson's corner for Adam Johnson, who headed straight at Artur Boruc. The best opportunity of the opening 45 minutes arguably fell to Lambert, who was played in behind the home defence by Steven Davis, only to scuff his shot at the goalkeeper.
Connor Wickham was introduced at the break, as Paolo Di Canio tried to inject some attacking impetus into his side's performance. But it was Southampton who created the first chance after the break, with Rodriquez doing well to get away from Carlos Cuellar to power a header goalwards, forcing another good save from Mignolet.
Danny Graham is yet to open his goalscoring account for Sunderland, and had a golden chance to do so just a few minutes later, but could not connect with Rose's teasing low cross. The home side began to look more confident as the half continued, with both Bardsley and Rose creating opportunities. And their pressing paid off with around 20 minutes to go, when Bardsley found some space inside the Southampton penalty area to lash home.
The goal clearly lifted the home side, as they began to play with an extra air of confidence. But against the run of play, substitute Puncheon scrambled a shot past Mignolet after seeing his initial header palmed away by the Belgian.
Lambert, who had caused problems for the Sunderland defence throughout the game, nearly wrapped up the points for the visitors late on, but was denied by another fine save from Mignolet. The result means that Sunderland slip to 17th, four points above Wigan Athletic, while Southampton stay one point ahead in 14th but are safe.
Sunderland head coach Paulo di Canio: “Today’s point is a very important point. We didn’t deserve to win the game because Southampton did a better job than us. With 15 minutes to go we were 1-0 up and could perhaps taste the victory, but it didn’t happen.I needed more from the players. I have to be honest, after the first 25 minutes I could have made changes. I expect much more - my demands are very high.
“We have to move on and make sure we’re fully focused on our next game. I want to see a different performance from Sunderland. Even after Tuesday’s result [when Arsenal host Wigan] – whatever that may be – I want to see a professional performance at Spurs because we need to build a different mentality for the future.”
Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino: "Yes, we are happy. The players have put in an amazing performance in the four months that I have been here. That's what I can do. I can't speak about previous to when I arrived."
"When you make substitutions, you always want them to have an impact and today the two substitutions I made had an immediate impact. It was a centre from Ward-Prowse and Puncheon got the goal, so it was immediate."
|19 May 2013||v Spurs (A)|
|15 Mar 2014||v Sunderland (H)|
|22 Mar 2014||v Norwich (A)|
|26 Mar 2014||v Liverpool (A)|
|31 Mar 2014||v Sunderland (H)|
|07 Apr 2014||v Spurs (A)|