Saints missed out on a place in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup with a disappointing 1-0 defeat at the Stadium of Light.
As cup games go, this was far from a classic, but the opportunity to make it into the last eight of the competition was a carrot that often appeared beyond either side in a match where both teams failed to make the most of the chances that came their way.
With the two teams having met on three previous occasions in the season, there was plenty of cancelling out across a goalless opening 45 minutes where very few chances were created.
A slightly improved second half drew an early strike from Craig Gardner, whose shot from the edge of the area was a worthy winner of the tie, but Saints will be kicking themselves for the chances they had to get back into it, not least Rickie Lambert’s close range effort which went over the bar late on, which all-but confirmed the hosts’ win.
Kelvin Davis made a couple of vital saves in the closing stages, but even the goalkeeper’s late advance into the Sunderland area for a corner, couldn’t yield a goal to take the tie to a replay.
The defeat maintained Southampton’s winless run on Wearside, whilst the quarter-finals stage of the FA Cup remains elusive for the ninth consecutive year.
Five of the players who began in the midweek win over Hull City were named in the starting line-up named by Mauricio Pochettino in the north east.
Amongst those coming into the side were club captain Kelvin Davis, Victor Wanyama and Nathaniel Clyne. Guly do Prado was handed a rare start alongside Rickie Lambert up front.
Sunderland made a total of nine changes from their last Premier League game, with striker Ignacio Scocco making his Black Cats debut in attack for the hosts.
There was a minute’s applause for the late Sir Tom Finney ahead of kick-off after the former Preston and England player passed away on Friday.
Saints got the game underway shortly after that with Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert getting the game off to a start lining up in the changed strip of black shirts and white shorts, attacking the end housing the travelling support at the Stadium of Light.
There was a fairly dis-jointed feel about the opening to the game as both teams try to build an early head of steam in a lacklustre first ten minutes of action.
Saints grew into the contest however, and created the game’s first real chance in the tenth minute. Lallana collected the ball on the left side of the area and delivered a cross to Lambert, who cushioned a header down for James Ward-Prowse, but the low shot from the teenager was held by Oscar Ustari in the Black Cats’ goal.
Ustari was alert again moments later to punch a corner from Ward-Prowse clear after Shaw had won the visitors their first corner with a surging run forward.
Sunderland remained a threat on the break though and perhaps could have had a penalty when Fabio Borini went to ground under a challenge from Shaw on the right side of the area, but referee Mike Dean saw no foul as the visitors were awarded a goal kick.
John O’Shea marshalled the hosts’ backline effectively to thwart both Lallana and Lambert, whilst at the other end Nathaniel Clyne made a vital interception to interrupt a cross into Kelvin Davis’s area as the hosts pushed on again.
A slip from Clyne soon after that however, let Emanuele Giaccherini in on the left flank, but the Italian ran into teammate Craig Gardner as he went to pull the trigger, as Sunderland remained frustrated.
Jos Hooiveld made a crucial interception to deny Gardner from finding Scocco with a cutback from the right as the home side turned the screw, and Saints were forced to react again when Borini tried to break through, which drew a booking for Yoshida as the Japanese defender brought the Sunderland forward to ground.
A Steven Davis cross into the hosts’ area caused a nervous looking Sunderland backline to clear their lines which they did with the help of the offside flag. That drew the opening half an hour to a close with little to shout about for either side.
Saints created their best move in the 32nd minute as they worked a corner routine well on the right flank. Clyne, Wrad-Prowse and Lallana all had touché son the ball before the latter’s low cross into the near post was gathered by Ustari
On 36 Sunderland were awarded a free-kick when Shaw brought Scocco to ground. The set-piece was rolled across by Larsson to Gardner, but the midfielder’s shot was deflected over the bar by Wanyama’s block on the edge of the area.
Saints went close again at the other end though as the tie began to open out. Clyne’s cross from the right was narrowly missed by Lallana, and just put out of play by Santiago Vergini as Lambert attempted to slide the ball in at the far post, with the visitors now throwing more caution to the wind.
Wanyama tricked his way through on the edge of the area before being challenged, and then Lambert again was involved as Lallana delivered another good cross into the area, but the resulting cutback by Steven Davis was intercepted as the hosts cleared their lines once more.
Midfielder Davis became the second Saint to go into the book fouled for his late tackle on Borini which saw the Sunderland frontman require treatment before coming back into play.
Right at the end of the half, Ward-Prowse headed Larsson’s free-kick away from danger as a rather dull opening half came to a close with the deadlock yet to be broken as the tie stayed in the balance at half-time.
HALF-TIME: SUNDERLAND 0-0 SOUTHAMPTON
There were no changes from either side as the second half began with nothing separating the teams looking to make it into the next round of the competition.
After a couple of close offside decisions against the hosts, Saints fashioned an opening for themselves when Lambert won an aerial duel to find Lallana, whose neat turn preceded a skyward shot which was never troubling Ustari.
But with 50 minutes on the watch Craig GARDNER struck the game’s first goal to bring the tie to life.
The Black Cats midfielder picked up the ball from a Jos Hooiveld clearance, kept his balance to get away from Wanyama, before unleashing a fierce long range strike into the back of the net off the underside of the crossbar to make it 1-0.
Saints pushed for an instant response but were handled well by their opponents whose organisation made it difficult to break down.
Steven Davis created an opportunity for himself though after Guly had nodded the ball down into his path. Davis took one touch to get the ball out of his feet before hitting a dipping strike narrowly wide of the near post.
With some fresh options needed to push the hosts further, Mauricio Pochettino acted by bringing on both Morgan Schneiderlin and Jay Rodriguez for Ward-Prowse and Guly for the last half hour or so.
Just before those changes, Shaw had won the visitors a corner on the left side, but the resulting set-piece was cleared as Lambert shaped to head the ball.
Larsson curled a free-kick wide of the right post for the hosts after Rodriguez conceded a set-piece by handling the ball to the left of the area, and soon after, the Black Cats made a change in attack of their own as Connor Wickham replaced debutant Scocco.
For all of their endeavour, Saints appeared to be running out of ideas in attack, and the visitors were given a huge let-off inside their own area when a cross into the box from the left was scuffed by Wickham from close range as Davis gratefully collected the ball.
Lambert headed an effort at the far post towards goal at a comfortable height for Ustari, before Davis was tested again at the other end, this time by Larsson, whose long range shot was saved well by the Saints stopper.
Marcos Alonso replaced Andrea Dossena at full back for the hosts with quarter of an hour remaining with Saints now upping the ante as they fought to hold onto their place in the competition.
A neat move involving Steven Davis and Clyne found Lallana racing in at the near post, but the skipper’s close range effort bounced narrowly wide.
Clyne was again pivotal as he produced an inviting low cross towards Lambert inside the six yard box, but the striker couldn’t apply the finish, as you sensed it wasn’t going to be Saints’ day in front of goal.
Both teams made one last roll of the dice as Sunderland replaced goal scorer Gardner with Jack Colback, whilst Adam Lallana made way for senior Southampton debutant Sam McQueen in midfield for the visitors.
Wickham raced clear for an opportunity to seal the hosts’ progress, but the young frontman dragged his shot wide as Saints held on for a close finish.
Jos Hooiveld tested Ustari from range with a fierce strike before Shaw then hit a skewed effort wide of the near post with both men unable to keep up the fine record of goal scoring that Saints’ defenders have had against the Black Cats during the season, late on.
At the other end, Colback played in Borini to make Davis work again with a fine low save, and Wanyama was forced to deny Wickham as the Black Cats broke forward once more.
Rodriguez went into the book for a foul on Cattermole prior to three minutes of stoppage time added on where Saints threw everything forward including goalkeeper Kelvin Davis for a late corner, but it wasn’t to be for the visitors, whose fate was sealed by referee Mike Dean’s blow of the whistle which confirmed Sunderland’s narrow win.
FULL-TIME: SUNDERLAND 1-0 SOUTHAMPTON
Sunderland team: Oscar Ustari, Ondrej Celustka, Andrea Dossena (Marcos Alonso 75), John O'Shea (c), Santiago Vergini, Lee Cattermole, Sebastian Larsson, Emanuele Giaccherini, Craig Gardner (Jack Colback 82), Ignacio Scocco (Connor Wickham 68), Fabio Borini
Unused substitutes: Vito Mannone, Ki Sung-Yeung, Valentin Roberge, Charis Mavrias
Goal: Gardner, 50
Southampton team: Kelvin Davis (c), Nathaniel Clyne, Jos Hooiveld, Maya Yoshida, Luke Shaw, Victor Wanyama, Steven Davis, James Ward-Prowse (Morgan Schneiderlin 61), Adam Lallana (Sam McQueen 82), Guly do Prado (Jay Rodriguez 61), Rickie Lambert
Unused substitutes: Paulo Gazzaniga, Calum Chambers, Jose Fonte, Jack Cork
Referee: Mike Dean
Attendance: 16,777 (including 859 away)