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Gardner powers Sunderland in to FA Cup quarter-finals
Full-time: Sunderland 1 Southampton 0
SUNDERLAND'S excellent cup form continued at the Stadium of Light this afternoon when a Craig Gardner thunderbolt sealed a place in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
Gardner's unstoppable drive from distance proved the difference in overcoming Premier League counterparts Southampton in front of just 16,777 fans on Wearside.
It means that Sunderland, who still have a relegation fight on their hands in the league, now have to factor in a last-eight tie in the FA Cup as well as a Capital One Cup final appearance while trying to preserve Premier League status.
With fans saving money towards a March 2 trip to Wembley for the Capital One Cup final, this tie being screened live on TV as well as it being the eighth home game of 2014 already, perhaps it is understandable there was a low crowd.
And the first half performance never really inspired from either side, which was probably expected considering there were 15 changes made by both managers from their last Premier League game.
Nine of those were from Poyet. The only survivors from the side which lost to Hull City was Fabio Borini and he should have earned an early penalty.
The Italian, on loan from Liverpool, was shoved by full-back Luke Shaw to the floor just inside the area. Borini did make the most of the challenge, but it was a foul and referee Mike Dean waved played on.
Moments before that there was a comfortable save from Oscar Ustari, on his second appearance for the Black Cats, when a free-flowing Saints attack ended with James Ward-Prowse side-footing at goal from Rickie Lambert's nod down.
Other than that there was very little to shout about at either end until the latter stages. Ignacio Scocco, making his Sunderland debut following his January move from Internacional, rarely got a look in up front alongside Borini.
The Argentine's compatriot Santiago Vergini looked more assured at the back, regularly getting in the way to frustrate anything the black shirts presented in his direction.
He made one particularly telling interception when Lambert was poised at the back post to convert the opening goal before half-time.
The second half appeared to have started in similar fashion. But four minutes after the restart Sunderland struck the opener.
Scocco's persistence on the edge of the area saw the ball roll kindly for Gardner. His first touch got him beyond Victor Wanyama and his second was an unstoppable right-foot drive which crashed in off the underside of the bar.
With 22 minutes remaining, Scocco's introduction to English football came to an end. There were a few indications of what he could offer, but it was more about getting some football in to him at this level.
Southampton pushed on in the closing stages in a desperate attempt to clinch a replay. They should have too, but Lambert somehow turned Nathaniel Clyne's delivery over the crossbar from literally four yards out.
But that said Sunderland also had a late chance of two themselves, with Connor Wickham and Borini both going close. Sunderland, though, are through … again.
SUNDERLAND (4-1-3-2): Ustari; Celustka, O'Shea, Vergini, Dossena (Alonso 78); Cattermole; Larsson, Gardner (Colback 83), Giaccherini; Borini; Scocco (Wickham 68). Subs: Ki, Mannone (gk), Mavrias, Roberge.
SOUTHAMPTON (4-4-1-1): Davis; Clyne, Yoshida, Hooiveld, Shaw; Ward-Prowse (Schneiderlin 62), S Davis, Wanyama, Do Prado (Rodriguez 62); Lallana (McQueen 83); Lambert. Subs (not used): Gazzaniga (gk), Fonte, Cork, Chambers.
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