SO much for the Premier League manager of the month award being a curse. Ronald Koeman collected that prize in the run-up to this game, and then watched his team romp to their biggest victory for nearly a century, inflicting a defeat that Sunderland will struggle to forget.
The Saints, who started the day third in the table, went marching on thanks to their own swish play and some staggering defending by the visitors. Sunderlandâ€™s right-back, Santiago Vergini, inadvertently gave Southampton the lead by lashing the ball into his own net in the 12th minute, and that signalled the start of a barmy encounter that had home fans in raptures and Sunderland in tatters.
By the end, Sunderland were lucky to lose by the same scoreline Northampton Town suffered against Southampton, in 1921. The Sunderland manager, Gus Poyet, lamented that it was â€œthe most embarrassed Iâ€™ve ever been on a football pitch, without a doubtâ€.
The odd thing was that Sunderland made the better start and showed early signs that they might pose serious problems to the Premier Leagueâ€™s tightest defence. Fielding all but one of the players who had registered an impressive 3-1 victory over Stoke City in their last outing, Sunderland forced their hosts backwards before Connor Wickham sent a header â€“ from eight yards out â€“ over the bar from a Jordi GÃ³mez free-kick in the third minute.
Five minutes later, Southampton tried to mount their first attack, but Wickham sabotaged the move by tripping the rampaging Nathaniel Clyne, prompting the referee, Andre Marriner, to issue a yellow card. That was a lone blemish on an otherwise tidy start by Poyetâ€™s team â€“ until, that is, the 12th minute, when Vergini produced a candidate for the most ludicrous own goal in Premier League history.
The defender was under no pressure when he ran on to the ball on the edge of his own area, yet he slashed at it in a wild panic â€“ and at a wonky angle â€“ sending the ball spinning past his bewildered goalkeeper. â€œEven if you watch that 20 times, you donâ€™t know how it can happen,â€ said Poyet.
A charitable observer might have suggested that the Argentina international was still jet-lagged after playing for his country in Hong Kong on Tuesday; most Southampton fans, however, just laughed at their good fortune. And the comedy was only just beginning.
There was a whiff of farce about Southamptonâ€™s second goal too, as, six minutes later, a bungled Sunderland pass ricocheted off Will Buckleyâ€™s backside to the feet of Dusan Tadic. The Serb teed up Steve Davis, who crossed low for Graziano PellÃ¨ to plunder his fifth league goal of the campaign.
Sebastian Larssonâ€™s attempt to bring the visitors back into the game was foiled when Fraser Forster pushed away a curling free-kick, hit from 20 yards out.
Steven Fletcher was presented with a far better chance in the 32nd minute â€“ thanks to an incisive pass by Lee Cattermole â€“ but the strikerâ€™s first touch was hefty, and when he went down under a challenge from Forster, the referee dismissed the strong appeals for a penalty. Sunderland were furious. â€œIf the referee did his job, itâ€™s a penalty and a red card â€“ and maybe 2-1,â€ said Poyet. â€œThen weâ€™re are talking about a different game.â€
Sunderlandâ€™s sense of grievance deepened within minutes, when Southampton put the game out of their reach. â€œAfter that, I have no explanation for what happened,â€ said Poyet.
Koeman identified Southamptonâ€™s third as their finest goal of the game. Jack Cork, the most underrated player at a much-lauded club, swept the ball out wide to Tadic, who waited for Cork to run to the back post before chipping the ball across to him to slam in a deserved goal from close range, despite an attempted block by Vito Mannone.
At half-time, Poyet replaced Wes Brown with Liam Bridcutt in the heart of defence and sent out the rest of the players to atone for their first-half mistakes. To no avail.
Verginiâ€™s woes continued in the 50th minute, when he spurned a scoring chance, heading over from eight yards out after a well-worked free-kick.
Poyet made two more changes on the hour, introducing Adam Johnson and Jack Rodwell, but that merely accelerated Sunderlandâ€™s unravelling. Three minutes later, Ryan Bertrand raced down the left and supplied PellÃ¨. Mannone took the sting out of the Italianâ€™s drive, from 15 yards out, and Bridcutt stopped the ball on the line â€“ then fell over and helped it across.
Southampton showed no mercy and treated themselves to a fifth goal in the 69th minute, Tadic threading a pass through to PellÃ¨, who applied a smart finish. Unbelievably, Sunderland contrived to get worse. Mannone gifted the hosts a sixth goal by kicking the ball straight to Tadic, who slotted it into the empty net from 20 yards out. That, at least, was fair reward for the gameâ€™s outstanding performer.
Two minutes later, Tadic provided another assist, wriggling into the box and feeding Victor Wanyama, who walloped in his sideâ€™s seventh goal.
â€œWe want 10,â€ cried the home crowd â€“ and merciless Koeman made similar exhortations. â€œI was trying to shout from the bench to keep going, keep high-tempo, keep pressing,â€ said the Dutchman. â€œThatâ€™s football. There was 30,000 in the crowd, a fantastic atmosphere, and we kept the ambition [to score] â€“ I like that; the players have to do that.â€
They had to settle for just one more, substitute Sadio ManÃ© whacking in the eighth as Southampton shredded Sunderlandâ€™s defence again. – The Guardian