15/02/2014: Sunderland 1-0 Saints

Saints crashed out of the FA Cup at the 5th round stage, with a flat display at Sunderland. Neither side displayed a great deal of quality, but after a scrappy first-half, the home side sneaked in front and just about edged it after that.

The early stages of the game were quite back and forth, with both teams taking it in turns to attack. The first serious chance would not arrive until the 11th minute, when James Ward-Prowse hit a volley straight at keeper Oscar Ustari. Sunderland pressed fairly well during the opening half-hour, but Saints attacked with a bit more purpose.

The visitors were involved in some good passages of play in the Sunderland half, but didn't really do enough to break them down. On 33 Adam Lallana twisted and turned on the right of the box, before seeing his cross intercepted by the keeper. A few minutes later Nathaniel Clyne had a low ball turned away for a corner before the incoming Lambert had the opportunity to attack the ball from close range.

You sensed very early on that a single goal would probably be enough for either side. Lallana had a dipping shot fly over the bar just after half-time, but it was Sunderland who grabbed that all important opener on 49. Craig Gardner smashed a powerful rocket into the back of the net from distance. There was very little cohesion in a Saints side that struggled to find any real rhythm in the final third, even with the introduction of substitutes Morgan Schneiderlin and Jay Rodriguez. Sunderland did create the odd opening from counter attacks, but the game was mainly reduced to an ugly midfield battle.

Saints upped the ante a bit towards the end of the game. Lambert sent a weak header straight at Ustari from Lallana's cross. At the other end Larsson shot straight at Kelvin Davis. Clyne stretched the Sunderland back-line with some decent runs down the right. He crossed on 79 for Lallana, who missed with the goal gaping. He did the same again for Lambert a few minutes later, who missed a much simpler chance. Connor Wickham dragged a shot wide following a swift Sunderland break on 86. Davis was forced into a smart stop with stoppage time looming. Saints' final major chance fell to Jos Hooiveld, who tested Ustari from distance.

A miserable performance from Saints. There were very few positives to take out of the game. It's easy to criticise the team selection, and while a full strength line-up might well have given us a better chance, it should be noted that some of the worst individual performances came from the regular starters. There were six changes to the side that won at Hull, but Clyne and Wanyama are hardly reserve players. Ward-Prowse and Guly were pulled off early in the 2nd half, leaving Saints very close to full strength, but the team barely improved. When you take into account that Jose Fonte and Jay Rodriguez were not fully fit, the line-up was not nearly as bad as some have suggested it was. The same can't be said of the performance, which was dreadful. The visitors struggled to find any fluency for most of the match. There was a brief flurry at the end, but just as they were a month ago, Saints were wasteful against the Black Cats.

As bad as Saints were, the boos which greeted the side from the away end at the final whistle were slightly harsh. Yes the performance was poor, but these type of displays are incredibly rare these days. This is the best Saints side for a generation. Everyone who played at Sunderland (apart from debutant Sam McQueen) has made a significant contribution to the team's success at one point or another, and did not deserve the vitriol they were greeted with from some fans at the end. It's unreasonable not to expect the occasional off-day, it happens to everyone. Accusing the players of lack of effort is in itself a bit lazy. It is possible to try hard but still play badly. It's disappointing to go out with so many lower ranked teams still left in the competition, so frustration is kind of understandable, but the team deserves to be cut some slack given what they've achieved for the club.

Attendance: 16,777 (859 Saints fans)

Match Ratings:

Davis: 6. Made one really good save towards the end of the game, but otherwise wasn't really tested that much. Kicking could have been better

Clyne: 6. Looked shaky early on, and a bit out of sync with the rest of his teammates, but strong during the final 15 minutes or so, fizzing some dangerous crosses into the box

Yoshida: 6. Gave the ball away in the build up to the goal, but otherwise did fairly well

Hooiveld: 7. A few minor slipups late on, but overall a solid display. Made a couple of big interceptions in the first half

Shaw: 6. Looked physically strong at the back, but final ball mostly poor

Wanyama: 6. Took a while to get into the game, but looked reasonably decent in the 2nd half, spreading the ball out well

Ward-Prowse: 5. Quite bright in the early exchanges, but probably didn't do enough to convince Pochettino that he should be starting more regularly

Davis: 7. Definitely one of Saints' better players. Gave the visitors energy that was otherwise lacking

Guly: 5. Always showing for the ball, but didn't really take many risks, using the simple option more often than not

Lallana: 5. Showed the odd bit of skill, but end product was lacking somewhat

Lambert: 5. Pretty poor in front of goal


Schneiderlin: 6. Did improve things slightly. Kept the ball moving quickly

Rodriguez: 5. Didn't really make much of a difference

McQueen: Only got a couple of touches on the ball, but a great journey for the youngster who has been so unlucky with injury over the last couple of years