Fletcher on target in Black Cats win
Published 22/12/2012 | 17:22
Steven Fletcher's strike proved the difference as Sunderland took all three points from their long trip to fellow strugglers Southampton which they won 1-0.
The Scotland international's effort three minutes from the end of the first half was enough for victory in an even encounter at St Mary's.
Only a point separated 16th-place Sunderland and the hosts coming into the match, with Southampton also a place worse off than the north-east side.
Fletcher, Adam Johnson and Danny Rose all overcame knocks to start for the hosts, who came close in the opening seconds as former Black Cats goalkeeper Kelvin Davis superbly denied Stephane Sessegnon from 25 yards, with John O'Shea nodding over from the resulting corner.
Jason Puncheon saw a threatening prod goalwards denied by Carlos Cuellar and, after a dangerous Morgan Schneiderlin free-kick was dealt with, Rickie Lambert was inches away from the opener. Craig Gardner brought down Emmanuel Mayuka on the edge of the box, the Saints striker's low driven free-kick was deflected just wide of the far post.
Sebastian Larsson was denied by Davis when Sunderland returned to the attack, before Fletcher directed a Gardner cross just wide and James McClean saw a tame effort from distance saved. Simon Mignolet did well to deal with an awkward dipping Gaston Ramirez effort from 20 yards.
Maya Yoshida did well to stop Fletcher meeting a driven Gardner cross from the right, while Puncheon saw a strike blocked by O'Shea as Saints looked to end the half on top, only for Fletcher to break the deadlock.
Johnson's low cross from the left was played on by Sessegnon for the Scotland international to sweep home a 42nd-minute opener. Lambert fired just over 30 seconds after the restart but Sunderland could have had a second had somebody connected with a drilled Gardner effort before Johnson fired over.
Substitute Steve De Ridder almost made an immediate impression as he found Jose Fonte with a corner, but the Portuguese defender could only nod wide. Puncheon was dispossessed as he ran through on goal and Steven Davis saw a shot blocked by Jack Colback as the hosts desperately sought a leveller.
Davis saved an audacious Gardner free-kick from range, before Guly do Prado came on for Puncheon in a final throw of the dice by the hosts. However, Southampton had a late penalty appeal waved away and Do Prado saw a stoppage-time shot blocked, meaning the 1,814 travelling fans would leave happy.