Richard Mennear's match analysis: Southampton 1 Sunderland 0, signs of improvement
Any hopes Sunderland had of kick-starting their season with an extended run in the EFL Cup were dashed by a stunning goal and a controversial refereeing decision.
At this level, you get what you pay for and Sunderland were undone by a superb strike by Southampton’s club record signing, £16million man Sofiane Boufal.
His touch to kill a high ball dead was class, he quickly shifted his body to move past Billy Jones – who was on a yellow card – before curling an unstoppable shot past Jordan Pickford.
It was clinical and worthy of winning any match. The problem for Sunderland is, they just can’t get a break at the minute.
Nine games without a win in the Premier League, the hope was that an extended run in the league cup would breathe some fresh life and momentum into the league campaign. Instead, they head to the Stadium of Light deflated on the back of yet another defeat.
This was harsh, though, on the Black Cats.
The first half was dire, with few clear chances for either side, but Sunderland battled back well after soaking up the early pressure.
They had chances to score, sub Jermain Defoe adding some potency in attack while Paddy McNair had an effort cleared and Victor Anichebe should have had a late penalty.
Maya Yoshida brought him down, only for referee Christopher Kavanagh to waved it away, much to the despair of David Moyes – sent to the stands for protesting – and the travelling fans.
It was harsh on Sunderland, but the same problems continue to dog them, wasteful in possession and unable to make a killer pass in the final third.
It was an improved defensive showing, though, with Papy Djilobodji playing well alongside captain Lamine Kone.
But Didier Ndong struggled again, giving the ball away far too much for a player that cost £13.6million. He is still young and has bags of potential.
But a big improvement is needed. It was an interesting comparison between Sunderland’s club record signing and the Saints’ record summer buy.
The Black Cats lack that extra bit of quality throughout the team. The Saints made nine changes, their team including five academy products.
Yet they were still able to rely on a superb piece of quality to win it thanks to Boufal – who could cost a total of £21million.
Moyes made four changes from the side beaten 1-0 by West Ham, with Steven Pienaar, John O’Shea, Javier Manquillo and Defoe all rested on the bench.
McNair started on the left-side of midfield for Sunderland, after previously playing centre-back, central midfield and in an attacking midfield role.
The hosts had the first opening five minutes in, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s low drive well blocked by skipper for the night Kone, although Pickford looked to have it covered.
There was a slight break in play shortly afterwards, Jones involved in a clash of heads with Jay Rodriguez, who was later subbed.
Jones was fine to continue, with Saints pressing Sunderland back early on.
Sunderland offered little threat in the opening 15 minutes, with the new-look Saints side bossing possession, Moyes’s side unable to get out of their own half or a foothold in the game.
It took until the 23 minute, but Sunderland eventually forced Alex McCarthy into a save.
Wahbi Khazri and Anichebe linked up, the Tunisian with the low drive but the offside flag was up anyway. Replays showed he was on but it mattered not.
There were signs of encouragement as the half wore on, Watmore slipped in the over-lapping van Aanholt who whipped the ball across to Khazri on the edge of the area. Inexplicably, he completely missed the ball. A let off for the hosts, who replaced Rodriguez with the lively Olufela Olomola.
Khazri had also blasted a 25-yard effort over.
They continued to press, with Jones seeing plenty of the ball down the right flank, but the final ball was poor, too often. Watmore amongst the biggest culprits.
The hosts offered little threat either, with Hojbjerg blasting over five minutes before the break.
It was a poor game, with far too many stray passes from Sunderland, in particular.
Sub Olomola saw his attempt sail high over Pickford’s goal after the ball dropped to him from a James Ward-Prowse free-kick moments before the break.
Sunderland, with the full backing of the 1,500-strong travelling support, started the second half with more intent, Djilobodji with a superb diagonal pass to van Aanholt.
The Dutch left-back miscontrolled though and the danger passed. Anichebe was starved of service on his first start but he earned a free-kick 55 minutes in but van Aanholt’s effort was too high and sailed over McCarthy’s crossbar.
Pickford, unlike him, looked uncomfortable on two corners from Ward-Prowse, missing the first and flapping at the second.
Up the other end, Watmore sliced the ball wide on the volley. Six minutes later, Southampton took the lead in stunning fashion through Boufal.
It was an unstoppable strike.
McNair, who had been poor in an advanced role on the left flank, saw a header at the far post blocked as Sunderland threatened to hit back straight away.
Moyes turned to Defoe from the subs bench to spark some life into Sunderland, Khazri making way.
He almost levelled in the 75th minute, his low effort from a tight angle was pushed behind by McCarthy. Then came the moment of controversy. Anichebe’s late penalty appeal rejected.
He appeared to have been pulled down by Yoshida but Kavanagh was having none of it.
Moyes was fuming and was sent to the stands for his protests. With it any hope Sunderland had of reaching the quarter finals.
Instead, Sunderland are going to have to kick-start their season on Saturday lunchtime when Arsenal visit the Stadium of Light.
It doesn’t get any easier for the struggling Black Cats.