St Mary's Stadium

So'ton v Sunderland Preview

by Stuart Vose

We look ahead to this weekend's action.

Sunderland make an unfamiliar trip to the St Mary's Stadium this weekend to face a Southampton side looking to continue a recent upswing in form.

Nigel Adkins' team, who rode a wave of two successive promotions to return to the big time in the summer for the first time since 2005, struggled in the early running.

The Saints won only one of their first ten league games but have lost only one of their last six outings, taking an impressive 11 points over that span.

Now Adkins will be hoping his side can continue to push on, particularly at home where the south coast club last lost at the end of October when Spurs ran out 2-1 winners.

All told, Southampton sit just a point behind Martin O'Neill's Sunderland with a game in hand.

Southampton's progress has been mirrored by the talismanic Rickie Lambert, who finally crowned a meteoric rise to the top flight when he led the club to the promised land last season.

The forward was consistently deadly on lower-league duty and the Saints were rewarded after taking a punt on him in August 2009, paying Bristol Rovers a fee of £1m.

That investment now seems a snip bearing in mind Lambert is now only six goals away from 100 for the club in just 174 games.

Barclays Premier League opponents haven't posed a problem for the powerful 30-year-old, who has banged in six goals in 16 appearances so far this season.

Sunderland have only visited St Mary's on three occasions and haven't faced the Saints in the top flight since January 2003.

The sides have only met twice since – in the 2006-07 season, when a 1-1 draw on Wearside was followed by a 2-1 victory on the south coast later in the campaign courtesy of goals from Carlos Edwards and a late winner from Grant Leadbitter.

If Adkins is hoping to cash in on recent progress, so too is his Sunderland counterpart O'Neill, whose side beat Reading 3-0 last week before putting up a spirited second-half show at Manchester United.

O'Neill admitted the win over the Royals was of vital importance and now leads his side into a spell of four games in just 12 days.

Home games against Manchester City and Spurs follow the trip to St Mary's before Sunderland kick off 2013 at Liverpool on January 2.

The Black Cats boss will wait on the fitness of Steven Fletcher, who limped out of the game at Old Trafford at half time to be replaced by the impressive Connor Wickham.

Meanwhile Danny Rose missed the game in Manchester despite his best efforts.

Saturday's game is the 56th all-time meeting between the two teams, with the Saints holding a slight advantage with 23 wins to Sunderland's 20. A further 12 games have ended all square.

Opta Facts

Southampton have been given the fewest cards in the Premier League this season (15 yellows, 0 reds).

The Saints have been given just five yellow cards in their last eight Premier League matches.

Sunderland have blocked more opposition shots than any other side this season (78).

No player has been given more yellow cards this season than Sunderland’s Craig Gardner (7).

Morgan Schneiderlin has made more tackles than any other player in the Premier League this season (67).

Only Reading (17) have lost more points from losing positions this season than Southampton (15).