SUNDERLAND’S love affair with the cup competitions continues after Craig Gardner’s thunderbolt sent them through to the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Gardner’s stunning second half strike proved sufficient for the Black Cats against visitors Southampton, as the Capital One Cup finalists moved within one game of a second visit to Wembley.
After a first half where both sides had struggled to create chances, Gardner’s effort injected some life into the game, with Southampton only coming into life in the final 20 minutes.
Both Adam Lallana and then more glaringly Rickie Lambert spurned golden chances to equalise, while Sunderland wasted a couple of opportunities themselves on the break.
But Sunderland held on to seal their place in the final eight of the competition, with the ties taking place the weekend after the League Cup final - meaning the Black Cats’ trip to Liverpool in the Premier League will now be rearranged.
Gus Poyet kept just two of the side which succumbed against Hull City seven days earlier, with January signing Nacho Scocco handed his Sunderland debut up front.
Scocco joined Fabio Borini and Emanuele Giaccherini as the front three, with Seb Larsson, Craig Gardner and Lee Cattermole providing the ammunition in midfield.
Oscar Ustari replaced Vito Mannone in goal, while Ondrej Celustka, John O’Shea, Santiago Vergini and Andrea Dossena formed the back four.
Southampton made six changes from their midweek win at Hull, with ex-Sunderland goalkeeper Kelvin Davis starting, along with Nathaniel Clyne, Victor Wanyama, James Ward-Prowse, Giuly Do Prado and Jos Hooiveld.
The Black Cats made a bright start to the encounter, but it was Southampton who should have gone ahead in the 11th minute.
Adam Lallana floated a lovely right-footed cross to the far post from the left flank and Rickie Lambert got above John O’Shea to meet it and head it down into the path of the onrushing James Ward-Prowse.
But from 15 yards out, Ward-Prowse scuffed his right-footed shot into the turf and it was comfortably held by Oscar Ustari.
Two minutes later, Sunderland had a big shout for a penalty when Fabio Borini was barged off the ball by Luke Shaw down the right-hand side of the area, only for referee Mike Dean to wave away the protests.
HALF-TIME Sunderland 0 Southampton 0
Both sides had struggled to get efforts on goal during the first half, but four minutes after the re-start, Sunderland went ahead through an absolute screamer from Craig Gardner.
Jos Hooiveld intercepted Nacho Scocco down the right-hand side of the area and the ball came back out to Gardner 25 yards out.
Gardner’s first touch took him beyond Victor Wanyama and he then unleashed a thunderbolt with his right foot from the edge of the area which smashed into the net off the underside of the crossbar.
Steven Davis tried his luck from distance at the other end in the 58th minute, but his angled right-footed drive screwed a couple of yards wide of the near post.
Substitute Connor Wickham went close in the 73rd minute when he lost his man in an attempt to meet Seb Larsson’s cross from the right.
But Wickham just couldn’t get enough contact on the ball to stab it past Kelvin Davis and it rolled into the keeper’s arms.
Adam Lallana should have levelled with 10 minutes to go after Nathaniel Clyne got away from substitute Marcos Alonso to collect Steven Davis’ ball down the right-hand side of the area.
Clyne picked out Lallana, but the England international could only send his effort a yard wide of the near post.
Moments later, Rickie Lambert produced a far more glaring miss.
Clyne crossed from the right and Lambert met it three yards out, with the goal at his mercy after Oscar Ustari had commited himself, but the striker somehow managed to spoon it well over the top.
Sunderland should have sealed it in the 86th minute, but they failed to take advantage of a three-on-one.
Wickham produced an excellent first touch and turn inside his own half and bolted towards the Southampton area.
But instead of feeding Emanuele Giaccherini to his left, or particularly Borini to the right, he opted to shoot himself from the edge of the box with an angled left-footed shot which drifted a yard wide of the far post.
Two minutes later, Jack Colback got in behind the Southampton defence and laid it back to Borini, whose right-footed shot was kept out well by Kelvin Davis, low to his right.
FULL-TIME Sunderland 1 Southampton 0
SUNDERLAND: Ustari, Celustka, O’Shea, Vergini, Dossena (Alonso 77), Cattermole, Larsson, Gardner (Colback 82), Giaccherini, Scocco (Wickham 69), Borini. Subs not used: Ki, Mannone, Roberge, Mavrias. Booked: Larsson (90)
SOUTHAMPTON: K Davis, Clyne, Yoshida, Hooiveld, Shaw, S Davis, Wanyama, Ward-Prowse (Schneiderlin 62), Do Prado (Rodriguez 62), Lambert, Lallana (McQueen 82). Subs not used: Gazzaniga, Fonte, Chambers, Cork. Booked: Yoshida (25), S Davis (42), Rodriguez (90)
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