Saints signed off 2012 at St Mary’s with a close defeat to Sunderland which arrived courtesy of a first half goal from Steven Fletcher.
The Black Cats’ top scorer made it eight strikes for the season with a clinical finish three minutes before half time on the back of a competitive opening period where the hosts had created more chances, and had good claims for a penalty turned down when Emmanuel Mayuka was fouled inside the area.
A spirited second 45 from the home side saw the introductions of Steve De Ridder, Steven Davis and Guly in a bid to salvage the contest, with a frenzied final ten minutes seeing Saints throw everything at the visitors, with Kelvin Davis even going up for a corner late on, but Sunderland weathered the storm to hold out for their first top flight win against Saints for over a decade.
Adkins’ men remain resilient at the back with the solitary goal against them only their fifth in seven games, and they remain outside of the relegation zone on goal difference, with this their first defeat at St Mary’s in five matches.
Saints: K. Davis, Clyne, Fonte, Yoshida, Shaw, Puncheon (Guly 80), Schneiderlin (S. Davis 60), Cork, Ramirez, Mayuka (De Ridder 55), Lambert. Subs (not used): Boruc, Hooiveld, Rodriguez, Richardson.
Sunderland: Mignolet, Rose, O’Shea, Cuellar, Gardner, Larsson (Bardsley 70), Colback, McClean, Johnson (Campbell 75), Sessegnon (Vaughan 89), Fletcher. Subs (not used): Westwood, Wickham, McFadden, Bramble.
Referee: Howard Webb
Attendance: 31, 275 (including 1,814 away)
Adam Lallana missed out so Gaston Ramirez returned to the starting line-up. Emmanuel Mayuka replaced Jay Rodriguez in the other change to the team that began in the win over Reading.
Full back Frazer Richardson was named amongst the substitutes on his return from injury, whilst Steve De Ridder was named in a Premier League squad for the first time.
Saints got the match underway, attacking the Northam stand on a drizzly south coast afternoon inside St Mary’s.
Visitors Sunderland, in their changed strip of blue and green, almost got off to the perfect start. There was less than a minute on the watch when Danny Rose’s low pass forward was seized upon by Stephane Sessegnon, who spun and struck a spectacular effort goalwards, only for Kelvin Davis to make a terrific save high to his left, with the glovesman keen to silence the jeers from the away end of the supporters from his former club.
Adkins’ men responded with some slick passing moves taking advantage of the quick surface, to set Jason Puncheon on a couple of early sights of goal. The latter of the winger’s low efforts was blocked by Jack Colback as the early high tempo to the match continued.
In the eighth minute, a neat link up involving Ramirez and Mayuka drew a foul on the Zambian on the left side of the area which provided Rickie Lambert with his first sight of goal from a set piece. The striker’s powerful low strike, took a deflection in its way out for a corner, but flashed only inches past Simon Mignolet’s left post.
The pulsating start to the game showed no signs of letting up with Sebastian Larsson forcing Davis into a low save at his near post from a short corner, whilst Mayuka and Puncheon were lively for the hosts in the other half.
The Black Cats went close to breaking the deadlock on 16 when Steven Fletcher hooked a cross at the near post wide, but a minute later, Sunderland were grateful to Mignolet, who kept Mayuka’s scuffed low shot out down the centre of the area.
The Belgian ‘keeper was made to work even harder four minutes later when he got down impressively to push a thumping drive from Ramirez which dipped menacingly towards the bottom left corner of his goal.
Another strike from Ramirez caused a nervous moment for the visitors when his long range strike had Mignolet backpedalling, but the shot cleared the bar as Sunderland breathed a sigh of relief.
It remained a close game with both teams enjoying possession, but Saints continued to look the more likely to convert their pressure into chances with the hosts edging the midfield battle largely thanks to the creativity from Ramirez.
But after Davis had kept McClean at bay, Sunderland responded with a goal that arrived just three minutes before the break. Adam Johnson’s run and cross was turned back in by Sessegnon to FLETCHER who made no mistake with a crisp finish high into the bet for 1-0.
Moments after the breakthrough strike, Saints burst into their opponents’ area where Mayuka felt he should have been awarded a penalty after being tugged back as he shaped to shoot.
Saints had another chance to test Mignolet in the dying embers of the half when Puncheon was fouled by Larsson on the left touchline, but the resulting free-kick taken by the wingman floated out of play.
Half Time: Saints 0-1 Sunderland
Saints attacked from the whistle at the start of the second 45 and Lambert fired in an early reminder of his intentions with a long range strike which flew just over the bar with Mignolet struggling to reach it.
That was followed up by Shaw’s persistence to win a corner which Schnederlin delivered towards Fonte, but the Sunderland keeper was equal to it.
Adam Johnson went on a one man crusade to create something for the visitors as he cut in from the right to fire over, and that was followed by a flurry of corners which Sunderland couldn’t make the most of.
Saints introduced Steve De Ridder in place of Mayuka on 55 to take up a slot on the left wing, with Ramirez joining Lambert through the middle to give the Black Cats backline a new challenge.
Steven Davis replaced Schneiderlin on the hour mark with the Frenchman still walking a suspension tightrope before the end of the calendar year.
Another corner this time from De Ridder was headed goalwards by Fonte, only for the ball to take a deflection off Rose as the hosts turned the screw in attack with another set piece.
De Ridder was proving to be a handful for the Black Cats with his trickery drawing a foul from Johnson to set up another free-kick which Mignolet had to watch all the way under pressure from Lambert and Fonte.
With the rain now lashing down, Sunderland made their first substitution of the afternoon with Larsson replaced by defender Phil Bardsley as the visitors looked to shore themselves up for the last 20 minutes or so.
Martin O’Neill was forced into making a second change moment slater when Johnson succumbed to the fleet footed De Ridder who had turned him inside and out, before the Sunderland man went to ground, and although briefly returned to his feet was soon heading back off to be replaced by Frazier Campbell.
Kelvin Davis was called into action to deny Craig Gardner’s ambitious free-kick from distance which the keeper held despite the water on the ball making it an awkward shot to predict.
Bardsley was booked for a lunge on De Ridder, before Saints made their final substitution which saw Puncheon replaced by Guly as play approached the last ten minutes.
The rainfall had ceased, but they effort from the hosts had not as Saints threw everything at the Mackems in the closing stages in hope of some late drama, with Davis even going up for a corner to try and snatch something.
Guly perhaps had Saints’ best chance, with his goalbound shot deflected wide inside the four minutes of stoppage time, but there was to be no late cheer as Saints kicked off the festive schedule with a narrow defeat on home soil.
Full Time: Saints 0-1 Sunderland