Sunderland did justice to their incredible traveling support by returning from the south coast with all three points from the crucial game against Southampton. here is what we made of it.
What The Gaffer Said
Martin O'Neill was in understandably buoyant mood after a big win on the South Coast. He told safc.com:
I'm absolutely thrilled for the team and for the supporters.
The amount of fans that followed us down was absolutely phenomenal, especially when it's only three days until Christmas.
They epitomise the football club and it was important for us to get the win for them today.
It was a big performance from us today and we got our goal at a very important time.
We weathered the storm when Southampton put us under pressure in the second half and we did well on what was a difficult afternoon.
We had to make a few changes to the team after last week and I thought the two centre backs were outstanding.
[Steven] Fletcher has scored a lot of goals for us this season, and all of them have been important ones. He was great again today.
Fraizer Campbell, who did tremendously when he came on, popped up with a great block late in the second half and I think that really typified our performance today.
First of all, we have to echo his sentiments regarding the fans. That was, quite simply, an incredible turn-out and they have made us all infinitely more proud than the team itself managed, even in victory.
Secondly, we wondered last week if Fraizer Campbell's days were over given O'Neill's failure to give him any credit for scoring at Old Trafford (instead praising the delivery from Sessegnon), but it is nice to see him get some plaudits today. That block was superb. Probably won't make a difference to his long term future at the club, but it was a huge contribution to the cause.
During the last 18 months or so we have seen quite a few different John O'Shea's. We have seen the fragile one, the lumbering one, the influential one, the flimsy one, and a few others too. At St Mary's, though, we saw the best one - the imperious one.
O'Shea was the clear stand-out performer on the park in what was a faultless defensive performance. He dropped off when he needed to, stepped up when he needed to, and held his ground when he needed to. It was pitch perfect.
The tackle on James Puncheon when he was all that stood between the pacey winger and a free run at Mignolet's goal was one of the best pieces of defending you'll see anywhere. Much more of this please, John!
Underrated Jack - This Week
Since breaking into the team a year or so ago the perception of Jack Colback has endured one or two oddly dramatic swings. First of all he wasn't rated at all, then he was vastly overrated, and more recently he has been quite chronically underrated.
Statistically, however, he was extremely good at Southampton. No player on either side passed the ball more accurately (84%) or made more tackles. Not bad at all for a midfield player who many claim 'offers nowt'.
Performance Of Better Days
In many ways this was a performance reminiscent of the early days of Martin O'Neill's reign last year. The work ethic was immaculate and the pressing all over the pitch was ruthlessly efficient.
Perhaps a case of a conscience effort to go back to basis or perhaps simply a natural culmination of half a season's worth of training, routine, and some rebuilt confidence after some decent recent performances, who knows.
But it was certainly welcome and may just bode well for the upcoming fixtures.
Half Way There, Just About
With one game to go until the half-way point of the season, this win put Sunderland on 19 points. Assuming for a moment we lose against Manchester City on Boxing Day, that would put us on track for 38 points for the season.
It is interesting to note that in seven of the last ten seasons 38 points has been enough to secure survival.
Now I don't personally believe we will cut it that fine and be involved at the bottom at the business end of the season, but the point is this: For all there has been doom and gloom and a unanimous sense that we have not been at our best this season, we are still far from on a path to relegation.
If this is our worst, then there is every reason to feel optimistic about where our best can take us should we find it in the second half of the campaign after some astute January additions.