MANAGER Dick Advocaat sensed the determination of his Sunderland players to register a pivotal win, before they had even kicked-off against Southampton.
Sunderland’s hopes of Premier League survival would not have been completely extinguished if they had failed to get revenge for their 8-0 rout at St Mary’s in Saturday’s reverse fixture at the Stadium of Light.
It started in the dressing room before the game – I could see the commitment with the way they were sitting and talking to each otherDick Advocaat
But, realistically, a defeat or even a draw would have left Sunderland with one foot in the Championship, with the Black Cats still potentially requiring another two wins from their final four games to secure Premier League survival.
As he watched his players in the dressing room beforehand though, Advocaat saw a determination to get the job done against the Saints and a realisation that it was now or never in the relegation dogfight.
Advocaat said: “It started in the dressing room before the game – I could see the commitment with the way they were sitting and talking to each other.
“They were really up for it.
“They said they didn’t want to go down and if you don’t want to go down, they had to do it on Saturday and they were totally right.
“The second half at Stoke (a week earlier), I think, was the best football they’ve played against a good side.
“We could pressurise them, control it and create some chances.
“Saturday was different because there was pressure on both sides – we had to win to stay up and they had to win to keep playing for European football.
“For me, it was a great game to watch, exciting for everybody, but I was happy when the referee blew for it to be over.”
Jordi Gomez’s brace of penalties sealed victory for Sunderland, yet the Black Cats did not make life easy for themselves against the 10-man Saints.
A defensive mix-up between Costel Pantilimon and Sebastian Coates saw Southampton equalise within two minutes of Gomez’s opener, while Sunderland almost gifted the Saints a stoppage time leveller when they failed to clear their lines.
Sunderland were spared that misery thanks to Pantilimon’s save, with Advocaat keen to praise the collective contribution from his side.
“As a manager, you can give a little bit tactically wise,” he added.
“But the players have to do it.
“We changed it a bit at half-time with (Jermain) Defoe a bit more down the middle and the penalty came from there as well.
“We still knew Southampton had the individual quality to score a goal, but we had to do it with the spirit.
“Until the end, we did OK.
“It was a real team performance from the goalkeeper until the end, I’m really proud of them.”