The game was far from a classic and it was easy to see why both clubs are where they are in the table. Phil Bardsley’s second half opener for Sunderland was out of keeping with what had preceded it as he registered with a screamer from range, with Southampton substitute Jason Puncheon’s leveller more in keeping with the game as a whole as he stabbed home at the second attempt with 12 minutes remaining.
Bardsley’s first goal in two years arrived in the 68th minute as he arrowed in from just inside Southampton’s box after being teed up by Adam Johnson. A slight deflection off Jos Hooiveld will take nothing away from what was a fine effort.
It was a lead Sunderland could hold onto for just eight minutes though as a pair of Southampton substitutes, brought on by Mauricio Pochettino as a direct response to falling behind, combined to conjure a leveller.
From James Ward-Prowse’s deep left wing cross Puncheon rose highest only to be thwarted by an excellent Simon Mignolet save. The Sunderland goalkeeper was not so fortunate with the rebound though as Puncheon gleefully smashed home.
The best chance to steal a maximum haul fell to Rickie Lambert but from his sharp volley Mignolet was at his athletic best to push the ball wide of his far post.
The opening period was the sort of game that will have had players, managers and supporters alike daydreaming of sunnier climes. Both teams looked as though they needed a holiday.
Profligacy was the order of the day as Sunderland in particular showed an absolute dearth of confidence. Southampton were not much better but it was Pochinetto’s side that created the first real opportunity, on 28 minutes, when Lambert’s daisy-cutter brought Mignolet into action.
Awoken from the slumber Jay Rodriguez then forced Mignolet into a smart if comfortable stop with a header before the Southampton man fired in the half’s best effort only to be denied by Sunderland’s outstretched keeper from around 12 yards.
With Danny Graham hopelessly isolated Sunderland never really looked like testing Artur Boruc and it was only in the second period that with the introduction of Conor Wickham did they look like finding a breakthrough. Sunderland’s only real chance of an insipid first half saw Boruc easily gather a limp effort from the disappointing Adam Johnson.
Wickham’s aggression immediately gave the home side greater presence, although it was the Saints who continued to make the better chances with central defender Jose Fonte powering in a 51st-minute header from a Davis corner which forced Mignolet into another good save.
However, Sunderland might have taken the lead within seconds when full-back Danny Rose, playing the final game of his loan spell from Tottenham – the Black Cats’ opponents next weekend – fired the ball across the face of goal only for Graham to completely miss his kick as the chance to claim a first goal in a red and white shirt passed him by.
The interventions of Bardsley and Pucheon prevented the contest from limping to a goalless draw and ultimately a game that will have been forgotten almost on Mike Dean’s final whistle, may prove to provide the point that ensures both clubs are playing top flight football next season.