Fletcher secures win at St Mary's.
Sunderland never looked in danger of leaving the South coast with a defeat on the last Premier League game before Christmas.
The only change that MON made since the last game against Man Utd was that Danny Rose came in for Titus Bramble which meant Cuellar slotted back into his familiar centre back role alongside O’Shea and Gardner and Rose were the full backs.
It was almost a perfect start for the Black Cats as 40 seconds in, Sessegnon received the ball 25 yards out and, turning the defender, unleashed an effort that was just tipped over by the stretching Kelvin Davis, who was Sunderland No.1 in the 05-06 season.
Soon afterwards Gardner crossed and Fletcher did manage to get a touch on it at the front post but the ball went straight out of play. The Scotsman would have been better off flicking the ball on with his head as the heavy rain may have allowed the ball to zip in. In between these two chances, Southampton had one of their own. Live wire striker Mayuka was fouled 20 yards out and Lambert took the free kick. It zipped just wide of the post but replays showed that Gardner had got a crucial and goal saving deflection.
The game then settled down and there were some half chances for Mayuka and McClean but all were long range efforts. It was a long range effort that almost caught Sunderland out, though. Gaston Ramirez, the Saints’ record £12m buy from Bologna, saw his swerving effort parried by Mignolet as the ball dipped just in front of the Belgian.
However, it was Sunderland who took the lead three minutes before half time. McClean fed the ball to Johnson on the left and, in plenty of space; he delivered the ball to Sessegnon. The Benin’s miscued shot fell to Steven Fletcher. His instinctive reaction saw the ball being stroked into the net for his 8th goal of the season, pushing Sunderland ahead in this tight game.
Sunderland came out second half and started to pile on the pressure but didn’t have anything to show from it. Johnson’s wayward shot was the only talking point after he had done well to beat his man and earn a corner.
Then, celebrating his 29th birthday, Jose Fonte got on the end of a corner at the other end but his bullet header was cleared by Colback. Seb Larsson then made way for Phil Bardsley, who had missed the last match through injury at his old club Man Utd. Also coming off was Johnson, who was nursing a leg injury. Frazier Campbell came on and took up the right wing position while Gardner moved up into central midfield.
Coming closest in the second half was Sunderland. Gardner took a 35 yard free kick which looked to be an easy catch for Davis. However, the slippy ball swirmed under him but fell inches short of crossing the line thanks to his leg. David Vaughan came on for Sessegnon as Sunderland tried to see out the game.
In the four minutes added, Lambert, Ramirez and Do Prado all saw their shots blocked as a scramble inside the box took place but ref Howard Webb blew the whistle much to the jubilation of the 1,800 travelling Sunderland fans, who had made the 700 mile round trip.
This vital basement battle win leaves Sunderland in 15th place with 19 points. One of the reasons why this win against Southampton was so important is because Man City come to the SoL on Boxing Day. However, the Champions haven’t won there since 2008.
Sunderland team: Simon Mignolet, Craig Gardner, Danny Rose, John O’Shea, Carlos Cuellar, Seb Larsson, Jack Colback, James McClean, Adam Johnson, Stephane Sessegnon and Steven Fletcher.