CYNICS might argue that Sunderland’s Under 21 squad emulated the Black Cats first-team last night both in terms of the weekend ‘s result and their lack of efforts on goal.
But that would be harsh on a youthful Sunderland side which kept on going against strong opposition from the south coast.
It was still an evening of very few fireworks from Sunderland, though.
Connor Wickham led the line but was unable to maintain his recent goalscoring form and Saints were deserving of their win over the course of the 90 minutes
There was little to warm the cockles of Sunderland fans’ hearts on a bitterly cold night, though Kevin Ball’s side did threaten to get back into the game just before and after the hour mark with their best spell of the game.
The home side, though, could have few complaints about the final scoreline and could indeed have fallen behind as early as the first minute when Connor Oliver’s misplaced pass allowed Sam Hoskins in and the striker dragged his shot across the face of goal from the left.
Sadly, the early stages failed to maintain that opening tempo and it wasn’t until just before the quarter-hour that Sunderland really threatened the Saints goal – Adam Mitchell’s fine free-kick from the right being cleared to the edge of the area where Jordan Laidler on the left lobbed a shot across goal.
Southampton were direct in attack with pacey strikers and Oliver did well in the 20th minute redeeming himself for his early error with a superbly timed tackle to deny Hoskins in the box.
It counted for little though – from a corner a minute later Lloyd Isgrove centred from the left and big Callum Chambers nodded home too easily inside the six-yard box.
Sunderland had still to respond when five minutes later Saints striker Sam McQueen tried his luck from distance with an eye-catching effort that wasn’t too far away.
And it wasn’t until the half-hour that Sunderland produced a shot on target – Adam Reed’s low effort from the left parried by keeper Chris Johns and hacked clear by a relieved defender..
Five minutes before the break Sunderland had a chance from a free-kick – the ball put in by Adam Mitchell and nodded over the bar by Dave Ferguson.
And Saints were similarly off-target with a rifled shot from full-back Dan Butterfield in the 43rd minute which flashed over the bar.
After the resumption Southampton threatened early from another Isgrove corner but a far more dangerous move was a Sunderland attack in the 55th when Jordan Laidler headed back across goal from the left and a crestfallen Craig Lynch saw his goalbound header blocked on the line.
Just as good a chance came just after the hour when the flag stayed down with Wickham looking clearly offside.
The striker tried to make the most of it and worked himself into a good shooting position before absolutely smashing his shot but it went straight into the chest of keeper Chris Johns who did exceptionally well to hold it.
Sunderland continued to press in that impressive spell.
But they could not break the visitors down and Southampton went close in the 70th minute with a drilled shot from distance from Jack Cork which Jordan Pickford punched wide diving full length to his right.
Sunderland were tested again in the 77th minute with the keeper involved in a goalmouth scramble which ended with striker Sam Hoskins clipping a loose ball over an open goal.
It wasn’t Pickford’s last save of the evening. He had to make a couple more important stops before the final whistle as a strong Southampton side finished the game confidently.
But on a night of cold comfort, at least Sunderland’s defence stayed solid to ensure they would lose it by a narrow margin.
Sunderland: Pickford, Marrs, Ferguson, Oliver, Adams, Mitchell, Gorrin (sub Armstrong 75), Reed, Lynch, Laidler (sub Deacon 75), Wickham.Subs not used: Dixon, Harrison, Joyce.
Southampton: Johns, Butterfield, Target, Cork, Stephens, Turnbull, Sinclair, Chambers, Hoskins, McQueen (sub Curtis 78), Isgrove. Subs not used: Britt, Seager, Seidi, Young.
Ref: Martin Coy. Att: 334.