06/11/2013: Sunderland 2-1 Saints
Sunderland - Bardsley (59) Larsson (86)
Saints - Yoshida (88)
Attendance: 15,966 (301 Saints fans)
Referee: Lee Mason
Saints went out of the League Cup at the 4th round stage for the third season running. Mauricio Pochettino's men matched their opponents for most of contest, but in the end Sunderland's extra experience told.
The first half was fairly evenly matched. Saints started and finished strongly, with Sunderland just about edging the middle. The visitors opened up proceedings positively, with full-backs Calum Chambers and Danny Fox pushing on to stretch the play. The game was played at a slightly slower pace than your average Premier League clash, with Saints building patiently from the back. Pochettino's men looked good in possession, and also pressed well, but the final ball was lacking. The same could be said of Sunderland, too. There were a few chances, however. Tadanari Lee was too slow to react to a Chambers' cross early on. Jozy Altidore turned Jos Hooiveld before placing a weak shot straight at Kelvin Davis. The American forward then blasted well over the bar from inside the area. The best chance of the half fell to Gaston Ramirez. Jack Cork played a killer through ball into space, with Ramirez curling wide of the post from close range.
Davis was tested immediately after the re-start. The Saints keeper made a brilliant stop from Craig Gardner, who hooked on to a neat flick from Altidore. Steven Davis fired over the bar for the away side. There was little more worthwhile action until Sunderland broke the deadlock on 59 from a corner. Davis stopped the initial header, but Phil Bardsley was there on the rebound to score his second in as many games against Saints. There were enough bodies in the six yard box to have cleared before Bardsley poked the ball in. Sunderland protected their lead with ease. Saints were severely lacking in movement and creativity going forward. The visitors did have at least one decent penalty shout, however. Maya Yoshida headed over from a corner, while Jay Rodriguez nearly scored a fluke goal when Sunderland keeper Vito Mannone smashed the ball straight at him. Saints went a bit more direct at the end following the introduction of debutant Sam Gallagher. The game appeared to be as good as over on 86 minutes when Sunderland hit on the break to score a second goal. Altidore squared the ball for Sebastian Larsson, who had a relatively simple finish. Saints did give the Black Cats a slight scare at the end, with Yoshida heading in on 88 from a Ward-Prowse cross. Sunderland held firm in stoppage time though, with Saints failing to test Mannone again.
A bit of a nothing game really. Saints played about as well as you would expect from a side that made ten changes. The team was fairly well set up, but was lacking in the final third. Many have said it doesn't reflect well on the strength of our squad, but I don't quite agree. A lot of the men on show at the Stadium of Light have already proven themselves as good Premier League players. Throw in one or two and they'll be able to hold their own in most games. When it's pretty much a whole team that changes then it's only natural that we will be weaker. It would be the same for pretty much any Premier League club of our size. Obviously those players who aren't starting regularly won't be as good as those who are. It's unrealistic for a side like ours to have world beaters in reserve, but what we do have is plenty of solid players who will continue to contribute over the course of the season. It's a difficult balancing act for Pochettino. Perhaps he should have named a stronger side, but he also has to keep his whole squad happy, not just the first eleven or so.
On a more positive note, it was nice to see youngsters Harrison Reed and Gallagher make a decent impact. Reed looks completely at ease at this level, and although he faces stiff competition for a place in central midfield, he surely stands a decent chance with such a good mentality.
Davis: 6. Made a couple of half-decent saves throughout the match, but could have possibly done slightly better for one of the goals
Chambers: 6. Started well, but less effective going forward as the game wore on
Yoshida: 6. Looked pretty rusty and not always at ease at the back, but nice to see him find the net
Hooiveld: 6. Not always able to contain Altidore and co, but passing and awareness generally pretty good
Fox: 6. One excellent sliding tackle in the second half prevented a clear goal-scoring opportunity, otherwise fairly average
Reed: 6. Solid first start. Tended to keep it simple in possession, but usually well positioned with some decent tackles thrown in too
Cork: 6. Bright early on, always showing for the ball, but not quite as influential in the second half
Davis: 6. Part of a couple of decent attacking moves, but not too inventive
Rodriguez: 5. Looked a different player to the one that has performed so well in the league recently. Near enough anonymous
Ramirez: 6. A few moments of quality, but also wasteful in front of goal. Has been scapegoated by some fans, but in reality no worse than most of his teammates
Lee: 5. Not much he tried came off. Very ineffective
Ward-Prowse: 6. Did improve things slightly. Passing decent as you would expect
Lallana: 5. Failed to make much of an impact. Didn't do a lot right
Gallagher: Nice to see recent U18 form rewarded with a first senior appearance. Ran the channels well during the final few minutes