MARTIN O’Neill’s Christmas Day will be so much the better after his side’s south coast heroics at the weekend, writes GRAEME ANDERSON.
The Sunderland manager was understandably buoyant after Saturday’s 1-0 win in what was a Premier League six-pointer for both sides.
And as he prepared to fly out of Hampshire, he knew he had secured the most important result of Sunderland’s festive fixture list – home points denied to a rival at the bottom and the Black Cats with a four-point cushion between them and the drop zone.
“It’s so important to us that we have won this particular game,” he reflected.
“You can look at it and say that we’ve won two out of our last three now.
“In terms of the importance of beating the teams around us, we’ve managed to beat first Reading and then Southampton in a short space of time.
“We cannot banish talk of relegation, but we do have a boost ahead of the rest of the festive programme.”
Southampton’s revival in recent times has been based on their home results, and they went into the game on the back of 11 points taken from their last 18 and conceding only four goal in those six games.
“Southampton are in really good form, particularly at St Mary’s,” acknowledged O’Neill.
“They’re in a run of good form and good results and the game was very tight, as we expected it to be.
“We started brightly, though, with Sessegnon going close straight away.
“Although it’s hard to say for sure, I think that we took a bit of confidence from how we finished the Manchester United game the previous week.
“Once the game evened itself out, it became important to get the first goal.
“Southampton tried to drag us down, directing quite a few balls into our penalty box, but I thought we dealt with them very well.
“We’d obviously had a few anxious minutes in the game, but the two centre-halves were outstanding and I thought Craig Gardner, at full-back, did exceptionally well, while Danny Rose showed why he was missed the previous week.
“We also put in some work in front of that back four and it was a great effort from everyone to get the clean sheet.
“But then Steven Fletcher does what he does so well and, having got our noses in front, we did what we needed to do to ensure we saw the game out.
“It’s a very big win for us and it sets us up nicely now for some very testing games that we should be looking forward to and going into with more confidence now on the back of this result.”