22/12/2012: Saints 0-1 Sunderland

Saints remain fourth from bottom, going down to a very disappointing defeat to fellow strugglers Sunderland. There were very few positives to take from the game, with nobody from the home side coming out with a great deal of credit.

Nigel Adkins started with a 4-4-2, with Emmanuel Mayuka making a surprise appearance up front in place of Jay Rodriguez. Gaston Ramirez started out wide on the left. Sunderland could have been ahead inside the first 15 seconds, with Stephane Sessegnon having a long range effort tipped past the post by Kelvin Davis. Saints then entered their best spell of the game. The hosts played some decent football in the build-up, but weren't anywhere near clinical enough in the final third of the pitch. Rickie Lambert fired just wide from a free-kick on the left hand side. Mayuka's fairly tame effort was comfortably dealt with by Simon Mignolet, before Ramirez blasted over the bar from distance. Both sides took a fairly cautious approach to the game, and were reluctant to throw too many men forward. Sunderland attempted to break from the back quickly, often taking the direct route. The Black Cats came into the game more and more as the half wore on. They took the lead just before the break. Adam Johnson got beyond Nathaniel Clyne on the left-wing, before pulling the ball back for Sessegnon in the area. Sessegnon squared the ball across goal for Steven Fletcher, who had a simple finish.

Rickie Lambert cleared the bar inside the first minute of the second half, but that was about as good as it got for Saints, who soon started to run out of ideas. Steve De Ridder was thrown on for the ineffective Mayuka on 55 minutes. De Ridder occupied the space on the left, with Ramirez moving to a more central role. Ramriez had been wasted out-wide, although he didn't have much joy through the middle either. Sunderland frustrated Saints for much of the second-half, and always looked like they had control of the game. The home side had the ball in their opponents half for a large portion of the final 30 minutes, but failed to test Mignolet. Saints tried playing through Sunderland, but weren't quick enough. John O'Shea and Carlos Cuellar ate up all the long balls, beating Lambert every-time. Substitute Guly Do Prado poked a deflected shot just past the post, which was the closest the home side came to an equaliser. Saints threw everything at it, with Kelvin Davis coming forward for a corner in stoppage time. Adkins' men never looked finding a way through, however.

Probably the worst display of the season. Saints have been poor in previous games this campaign, but often against teams we had little chance of beating anyway. On other occasions we've been hit with bad luck. Today we offered precious little against a very average opponent. Saints should have been fresh following a two week break, but instead looked uncharacteristically flat. No doubt Adam Lallana was a massive loss. The captain is such an influential player going forward, and Saints looked lost without him. That doesn't excuse the players that were out there however, who performed well below the level expected. The decision to start with a 4-4-2 raised a few eyebrows, but things hardly improved when Adkins twice changed the formation in the second half. Ramirez started on the left before moving to the centre, and finally the right. He was tightly marked and struggled to assert himself on the game in all three roles. Perhaps if he had started through the middle he would have found more joy early on, with Sunderland slightly more open before the goal. Lambert and Mayuka didn't really click. So far the Zambian has yet to impress when playing up top. He looked promising against Tottenham out wide, but is still very raw. Jay Rodriguez or Guly were probably more deserving of a start today, given their performances against Reading. De Ridder did ok when he came on, but it was a surprise to see him on the bench in the first place, given that others have been performing to a much higher standard for the Development squad recently. We are looking quite thin on the ground in terms of strength in depth at the moment. If any more players join Lallana in the treatment room then we could really be in trouble. Much of the talk earlier in the season was about the need for defensive reinforcements, but we could also do with a bit more spark going forward. Saints simply must improve if they want to take anything out of the Christmas/New Year period.

Attendance: 31,275

Match Ratings:

Davis: 6. Made a couple of decent saves, but wasn't really troubled that often. Can't really take much of the blame for the goal

Clyne: 6. A level below his usual very high standard

Fonte: 7. Fairly comfortable afternoon for the Birthday boy, didn't do a lot wrong

Yoshida: 6. Misplaced a number of passes, including one which led to the goal. Otherwise fairly solid defensively

Shaw: 6. Didn't have it all his own way like in previous games. Beaten by his man on a couple of occasions, but did work very hard

Puncheon: 6. Bright in spells early on, with some decent dribbles. Faded in the second half, failed to open up enough space

Schneiderlin: 7. Slightly surprising to see him come off, one of Saints' better players. Passing and tackling solid

Cork: 7. Always showing for the ball, sprayed it about well

Ramirez: 6. A few touches of class here and there, but overall fairly quiet. Played in three different roles. Got more frustrated as the game went on

Mayuka: 5. Nearly created an opening with a good bit of skill in the first half, but otherwise looked off the pace

Lambert: 5. A couple of decent pieces of link-up play early on, but by and large fairly ineffective. Sunderland found it far too easy to keep him quiet

Substitutes

De Ridder: 6. Did improve things slightly after coming on with a few decent crosses, but influence faded soon after

Davis: 6. Made a few well-timed runs through the middle

Guly: Put himself about in the closing stages. One of the few players to create something for himself