24/08/2013: Saints 1-1 Sunderland
Saints secured a late point in a tricky second game against Sunderland. The home side went behind very early, and initially struggled to break their opponents down. Things opened up a bit more in the second half, but the longer the game went on the more it looked like Saints would come away without a point. Thankfully Jose Fonte stepped up late for a well-deserved equaliser.
Sunderland really got at Saints early on, aggressively pressing with energy and organisation. They were ahead inside the opening few minutes. Seb Larsson's expertly taken corner evaded most of the Southampton defence, with Emanuele Giaccherini - the smallest man on the pitch - stooping in to head past Boruc. That changed the whole complexion of the game. Sunderland were content to stick 10 men behind the ball. Things could have been different had Jay Rodriguez's 6th minute goal not been disallowed. Rickie Lambert threaded the ball through for the former Burnley man, who was judged to have been offside. Sunderland did well to disrupt the flow of the game, and were still a threat on the counter and at set pieces. Saints were too slow in possession, and struggled to find pockets of space in a congested final third. Sunderland keeper Kieran Westwood was forced into a fine save on 18 minutes when Lambert headed down from James Ward-Prowse's cross. Saints' number seven was involved in further chances before the break, but failed to find the net.
Mauricio Pochettino made a double substitution at half-time, with Nathaniel Clyne and Dani Osvaldo coming on for Luke Shaw and Morgan Schneiderlin. Ward-Prowse moved from the right to the centre of midfield, with Osvaldo supporting Lambert in attack. Saints looked a lot more fluid on the ball in the second half, with full-backs Calum Chambers and Clyne regularly pushing forward to support the front four. Things really came to life on 52 minutes, with Adam Lallana firing narrowly wide from Lambert's knock-down. At the other end Adam Johnson blasted over the bar from long range. On 58 Boruc brilliantly saved one-on-one from Jozy Altidore. Saints created numerous chances during the final half-hour. On 64 minutes Lambert headed Chambers' cross straight at Westwood. The same player later cleared the crossbar from a free-kick. Saints looked to be running out of ideas until Ward-Prowse's 88th minute free-kick. Jose Fonte out jumped his marker, brilliantly planting a header into the corner of the net. Saints had the momentum during the final few minutes, but didn't have enough time to find a winner.
On the one hand it was pleasing to grab a point having been behind for so long, but we really should have made our dominance count much earlier. There were plenty of positives to take from the game. Ward-Prowse looked a class act, playing with maturity beyond his years. He has the potential to go to the very top. Chambers also looked very assured for the second game running. Saints lacked a bit of cutting edge going forward once again. We often struggle against teams who defend with so many men behind the ball and need to find a way to break these types of sides down. Osvaldo and Gaston Ramirez could be the men to solve these problems. Neither is at 100% yet, but both showed signs today that they could play a huge part this season. Osvaldo looks a class act, and should start firing on all cylinders once he is in sync with the rest of the team. Ramirez has shown quality in patches since signing a year ago, but has yet to truly deliver on a consistent basis (partly due to factors outside his control). The Uruguayan looked dangerous after coming on, and should do a lot better this term, having had a year to acclimatise to English football. If he fulfils his potential then our creative woes could well be over. Saints conceded a very sloppy goal and looked ponderous in possession at times, but overall the outlook is pretty positive. The options we had on the bench today were ridiculously good. The fact that one of last season's main men Jack Cork didn't even get on the pitch speaks volumes as to how much depth we have at the moment.
Boruc: 6. Looked slightly iffy at times. Kicking a bit off, but one vital save in the 2nd half kept Saints in the game.
Chambers: 7. Grew in confidence as the game wore on. Made some vital last ditch tackles in the first half, and looked good going forward on the overlap.
Fonte: 7. Stood up to the challenge of the giant Altidore pretty comfortably. Proved his at set pieces with a big goal
Lovren: 7. Another assured display, didn't do a lot wrong
Shaw: 6. A reasonable outing, but not quite up to the standard you would expect before limping off at half-time
Ward-Prowse: 8. Another mature showing from the youngster. Delivery and movement first class all game
Schneiderlin: 6. Uncharacteristically sloppy in the first half.
Wanyama: 7. Not anywhere near the level of his West Brom display, but a reasonable performance nonetheless. Constantly winning the ball back
Lallana: 7. Had his ups and downs in the first half, but looked very bright after the break, with a series of bursting runs
Rodriguez: 6. Plenty of endeavour, but didn't really do it where it mattered in front of goal
Lambert: 6. Showed glimpses of quality on the ball, but could have done better with some of his chances
Osvaldo: 6. A solid debut. Showed some decent touches and moved the ball about fairly well. Booking seemed ridiculously unfair, but was then let off for a nastier challenge
Clyne: 6. Helped stretch the Sunderland defence in the second half by constantly attacking down the left flank
Ramirez: 6. Improved things after coming on. Won a number of free-kicks in dangerous areas
Saints - Fonte (88)
Sunderland - Giaccherini (3)
Attendance: 29,596 (1,867 Sunderland fans)
Referee: Lee Mason
Saints: Boruc, Chambers, Fonte, Lovren, Shaw (Clyne 46), Wanyama, Schneiderlin, (Osvaldo 46), Ward-Prowse, Lallana (Ramirez 68), Rodriguez, Lambert
Subs not used: K Davis, Hooiveld, Cork, S Davis
Sunderland: Westwood, Larsson, Gardner, Johnson, Celustka, Colback (Vaughan 53), O'Shea, Altidore, Diakite, Giaccherini (Wickham 81), Sessegnon (Dong-Won 46)
Subs not used: Mannone, Cabral, Moberg-Karlsson, Roberge