Report: Saints win thriller against Sunderland

Live Matchday Images/2023-24/20240309 Southampton vs Sunderland/106A7326_fizo5t

Southampton made up important ground in the Championship’s automatic promotion race, as they won a thrilling encounter with Sunderland 4-2 at St Mary’s.

Having uncharacteristically lost their past two outings at home, while also having to sit idle in midweek due to the postponement of their scheduled clash with Preston, Saints were in need of a positive afternoon, as they looked to make up some of the deficit on the sides above them.

And they got just that, as goals from Stuart Armstrong, Adam Armstrong and, crucially, a late Joe Rothwell double – which came after Sunderland had drawn level at 2-2 – gave them all three points.

With Ipswich losing earlier in the day at Cardiff and Leicester being held at Hull, it meant Saints clawed back ground on two of the three sides above them, keeping themselves right in the thick of the push for the top two.

The game was Saints Foundation's charity matchday, with the players supporting the cause (Photo: Matt Watson)

Martin named an unchanged XI from the one that started last week’s dramatic win at Birmingham, as Saints looked to build further momentum following that seven-goal thriller.

They had an early scare here, though, as Mason Burstow nicked a ball in behind a little over 60 seconds into the game, but he raced into the left side of the area and put his shot towards the far corner a couple of yards wide of the post.

From there on, Saints then took control.

David Brooks went close in the fourth minute, driving towards the area and sending a skidding shot inches wide of the far post from 18 yards, as Martin’s side began to apply the pressure.

It didn’t take long for it to tell, either, as they grabbed the lead in the ninth minute.

The goal came from a free-kick about 35 yards out, after Stuart Armstrong had been pulled back by Jenson Seelt while attempting to run onto a through ball from Brooks. Will Smallbone played the set-piece short to Brooks, who curled in a cross with his left foot. There looked to be little danger for Sunderland, but Jobe Bellingham inexplicably nodded the ball across his own goal, and, while Jan Bednarek’s header was saved by Anthony Patterson, Stuart Armstrong was there to tap home the rebound from a yard out.

Stuart Armstrong sweeps home to put Saints ahead (Photo: Matt Watson)

The midfielder almost had a second on 19 minutes too, as a nice move saw the ball worked to him in space just inside the box, but his shot towards the far corner took a deflection off a defender and flashed wide.

He was again at the centre of things moments later, as a mis-hit clearance from Sunderland keeper Patterson fell straight to him, with his brilliant first-time pass picking out his namesake, Adam Armstrong, who turned and shot, only to fire over.

On 23 minutes, Stuart Armstrong once again went close to providing an assist, as he latched onto a Brooks pass into the area and squared for Ché Adams, who was denied by a brilliant sliding tackle from Seelt just as he looked set to slam home with his right foot.

Saints were well on top and looking a real threat for a second, but they did have one fright when, on the half hour mark, a ball into the box created a bit of havoc, ending with Burstow hitting a shot from a very narrow angle against the outside of the post.

Still, the hosts got straight back on the attack and earned another sight of goal when Brooks was upended by Daniel Ballard 20 yards out, with the winger taking the subsequent free-kick and curling it round the wall, only for Patterson to be well-positioned to save it.

The second goal did finally, and deservedly, arrive on 38 minutes.

Stuart Armstrong’s pass into the area found Ryan Manning near the byline, and his wicked turn back inside completely flummoxed Chris Rigg, who slid in and wiped him out, with referee Stuart Attwell pointing to the penalty spot. From there, Adam Armstrong did the rest, slamming home for his 18th goal of the season.

Adam Armstrong celebrates as he runs past the Sunderland away end (Photo: Matt Watson)

The Newcastle-born striker clearly took particular satisfaction from converting that one, as he ran past the travelling Sunderland fans in celebration.

Saints’ search for a third before half time then began, with Jack Stephens seeing a shot deflected wide, while Brooks and Adam Armstrong both had efforts saved by Patterson, as the hosts went into the break with a well-deserved two-goal advantage.

The interval didn’t interrupt the flow, either, as the hosts came back out with the same positivity they had shown in the first 45 minutes.

Adam Armstrong was quick to threaten, seeing a shot deflected wide as he cut inside and onto his right foot 18 yards out, while a Smallbone corner caused a panic in the Sunderland six yard box, all within a few minutes of the restart.

No doubt keen to keep the energy up, Martin made a pair of changes before the hour, as Joe Aribo and Kamaldeen were sent on for Smallbone and Brooks.

But then, completely against the run of the game, Sunderland suddenly pulled themselves back into it.

It was a fine goal too, as they won the ball high up the pitch, working it to Romaine Mundle, who crashed a shot in off the post from 20 yards, with the aid of a slight deflection off the unfortunate Stephens.

Ten minutes later and the visitors were level.

This time it came via Bellingham, who curled a stunning shot into the far top corner from just outside the area to stun St Mary’s.

A game that had been so comfortable for so long had suddenly become anything but for Saints, who had just under 20 minutes to find a way to rescue the three points.

In response, Martin sent on Rothwell and James Bree for Stuart Armstrong and Jack Stephens, and it paid dividends within minutes.

It was a classic Saints move, working the ball all the way up the pitch, with Adam Armstrong being sent racing away down the right and into the area. His square ball was diverted by a Sunderland defender towards the edge of the area, where Rothwell came steaming in to slam a glorious first-time shot into the bottom corner.

Joe Rothwell celebrates scoring for Saints (Photo: Matt Watson)

If that wasn’t enough, Rothwell scored again just minutes later, as the two-goal lead was restored even quicker than it had disappeared.

Again, it was another excellent move, with Adam Armstrong seeing a shot across goal cleared from inside the six-yard box and into the path of Rothwell, who side-footed home from a central position, sending St Mary's wild and sealing what could be a big three points.

Southampton: Bazunu, Harwood-Bellis, Stephens (captain) (Bree 73), Bednarek, Manning, Downes, Smallbone (Aribo 57), S Armstrong (Rothwell 73), Brooks (Kamaldeen 58), Adams (Mara 84), A Armstrong.

Unused substitutes: Lumley, Charles, Dibling, Edozie.

Goals: S Armstrong (9’), A Armstrong (38’ pen), Rothwell (77’, 80’).

Yellow cards: Aribo.

Sunderland: Patterson, Hume, Seelt, Ballard (Styles 70), Hjelde, Neil (captain), Bellingham, Rigg (Aouchiche 57), Ba, Mundle (Ekwah 88), Burstow (Rusyn 57).

Unused substitutes: Bishop, Pembélé, Luis Hemir, Lavery, H Jones.

Goals: Mundle (62’), Bellingham (72’).

Yellow cards: Seelt, Ballard, Hjelde.

Referee: Stuart Attwell.

Attendance: 30,869