TWICE in the last three weeks Sunderland have faced clubs in apparent crisis.
At Cardiff, just before the turn of the year, the Black Cats headed to chaotic pastures after the ludicrous dismissal of manager Malky Mackay.
There were clear parallels with the situation at Southampton this week after the resignation of chairman Nicola Cortese and the subsequent scrutiny over the future of manager Mauricio Pochettino and some of his stand-out players.
But, on both occasions, Sunderland have failed to take advantage of the situation. They have come out of the blocks like snails.
In Wales, Sunderland were behind within the opening six minutes and it took just four for Southampton to get their noses in front today.
What followed, was arguably the worst 30 minutes Sunderland have produced under Gus Poyet.
Credit to Southampton. They were impressive down at St Mary’s in August and they were equally slick in the return fixture.
Pochettino’s side play in the same style which Gus Poyet is trying to introduce at the Stadium of Light, but they simply showed they were capable of doing it better.
The two-touch passing left Sunderland chasing shadows, while Southampton’s pressing game never allowed Ki Sung-Yeung or either full-back the chance to threaten. Both have been key for the Black Cats over recent weeks.
The only saving grace for Poyet was that Sunderland only trailed by one goal at half-time – and that was thanks to some very suspect goalkeeping from Artur Boruc, who was equally at fault for Adam Johnson’s leveller.
Southampton really should have been out of sight by the half-hour mark.
Even in the first part of the second half, they had the opportunities to net a match-clinching third goal.
But this Sunderland side is made of far sterner stuff these days.
Three months ago, when faced with the situation against Cardiff or Southampton, Sunderland would have folded and slumped to a tame defeat.
But now, the Wearsiders are a determined lot and keep going to the death, as they showed with the 94th-minute leveller at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Craig Gardner made a big impact in turning the game in Sunderland’s favour from the bench, while Steven Fletcher offered far more than Jozy Altidore when he was introduced after the leveller.
Johnson, who had been one of the few Sunderland players to look assured throughout proceedings, was the undoubted hero though.
The Easington-born winger’s confidence is returning – at an extremely timely moment for Poyet – and he gave the excellent Luke Shaw one of the more difficult afternoons he will have endured this season.
Johnson’s leveller could easily have sparked a winner for Sunderland and Boruc had to make amends to save well from Gardner and Fletcher.
But a point against Southampton is nothing to turn the nose up at, particularly after Sunderland were second best for such large portions of the encounter.
Yes, Sunderland need to find a solution to their home form so they can record some much-needed Stadium of Light victories.
Yet coming away with something when you’ve not done yourselves justice is an admirable asset to have, particularly against a good side like Southampton.
Sunderland cannot play well every week for the rest of the season. They will need more afternoons like this one.
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