Jason Puncheon scored just moments after being introduced as Southampton held Sunderland to a 1-1 draw in the Premier League.
Sunderland defender Phil Bardsley scored with a powerful strike from the edge of the penalty area halfway through the second half following the hosts’ dismal showing in the opening 45 minutes.
The Black Cats looked to be turning the screw after that goal and could have gone further ahead.
However, Southampton boss Mauricio Pochettino introduced Jason Puncheon and James Ward-Prose with little over ten minutes to go and the pair combined to grab the equaliser.
Ward-Prowse crossed from the left to allow Puncheon an effort on that was initially saved by Simon Mignolet, but the keeper could do nothing about the follow up as the striker hammered the ball home from close range.
Ahead of kick-off, both sides knew that a win would have secured their Premier League safety for another season. Despite that, Paolo Di Canio’s men looked abject in the opening 45 minutes as they sat deep in their own half with Danny Graham – who has failed to score for his new side all season – looking completely isolated.
Southampton enjoyed large spells of possession throughout the entire match but none more so than in the opening half an hour where, at one point, had seen 66% of the play.
Jay Rodriguez was the first to go close for Mauricio Pochettino’s men following Adam Lallana’s smart corner. The set-piece was whipped into the far post and wasn’t dealt with particularly well by Sunderland defence as the ball dropped to the feet of the Southampton striker.
His side-footed effort on goal took a deflection on its way towards goal, wrong-footing Mignolet but the keeper recovered well to palm the ball away.
Lallana was then able to capitalise on some poor defending from Rose, who was featuring for the final time of the season ahead of Sunderland’s fixture against Tottenham next week of which he is ineligible for, to have a an effort on goal.
The Saint’s full-back Luke Shaw hung a ball up on the edge of the penalty area of which Rose failed to deal with, nodding it back into danger and into the path of the onrushing Lallana. The 24-year-old midfielder didn’t hang around in sending his effort towards goal but didn’t catch it as sweetly as he’d have liked as it flew wide of the left-hand post.
Alfred N’Diaye produced a few brief moments of magic throughout the first half as he rode a few challenges to tear into the Saints’ half and towards goal. With a lack of options either side the Senegalese international opted for goal but couldn’t beat the legs of Jose Fonte.
Rodriguez had a headed-effort beaten away from close range following Lallana’s corner as the half-time whistle beckoned.
Di Canio, obviously not happy with his team’s first half performance, introduced Conor Wickham during the break and the striker, who had been out for a month through injury, put himself about and gave his side a real lift.
Former Burnley striker Rodriguez tested Mignolet in what was a carbon copy of the chance in the dying minutes of the first half but the outcome remained the same, with the keeper parrying the ball away to safety.
The home crowd began to respond to their side’s much-improved display and urged them on, with Graham almost getting on the end of Rose’s centre from the left.
They attacked in numbers, played with a real confidence and were rewarded with just over 20 minutes remaining.
A sustained amount of pressure had Southampton pegged back to their own penalty area, with some short, sharp passes allowing the hosts to retain possession. Johnson received the ball 25 yards from goal and jinked one way before rolling the ball out wide into space for the overlapping Bardsley to run on to.
There were numbers in the box but the defender only had one thing on his mind, setting himself before rifling a deflected effort into the top-left hand corner from the edge of the penalty area.
Instantly Pochettino opted to make a change – introducing Puncheon and Ward-Prowse – as Sunderland began to assert their dominance.
However, the home crowd were soon silenced and the Sunderland players deflated as the substitutes combined superbly to draw their side level.
Ricky Lambert, who had a quiet afternoon, charged through the centre of midfield as the visitors went on the counter. The striker played in Ward-Prowse who had pulled away from his marker, allowing him to turn on the byline and cross for Puncheon whose initial header was well saved by Mignolet. With a lack of defenders in the penalty area Puncheon was able to readjust to drill the ball home from close range.
It wasn’t a result that either side wanted as neither were able to confirm their Premier League safety, but one this is for sure; all eyes will now be on Wigan’s midweek fixture against Arsenal.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Connor Wickham, Sunderland – The striker may have only been given 45 minutes but he changed the way his side played. They were very poor during the first period but his introduction gave them a lift. He put himself about and worked hard, dropping deep when required and linked well with Graham.
Sunderland: Mignolet 5, Bardsley 5, O'Shea 5, Cuellar 5, Rose 7, Larsson 5, N'Diaye 7, Colback 7, McClean 4, Johnson 5, Graham 5. Subs: Wickham 8, Vaughan 5
Southampton: Boruc 5, Clyne 5, Hooiveld 5, Fonte 5, Shaw 7, Davis 6, Schneiderlin 5, Cork 5, Lallana 6, Rodriguez 6, Lambert 6. Subs: Ward-Prowse 7, Puncheon 7