Sunderland ended a dismal run of away form with a 1-0 win against Southampton at St Mary’s Stadium on Saturday.
In what was a huge game at the lower end of the English Premier League table, both teams took a while to get going, aside from a splendid early effort from Stephane Sessegnon.
The visitors took the lead through a fortunate Steven Fletcher goal just before the break, and held on after it to secure three huge points and their first away league win of the campaign.
Sessegnon nearly opened the scoring in the opening seconds, but his powerful long-range effort was expertly tipped wide by Kelvin Davis.
The action was a lot less frequent thereafter.
Jason Puncheon wasted a decent Southampton opening when he missed the ball completely, before Rickie Lambert’s free-kick was deflected just wide.
Soon after, Sebastian Larsson forced a much more straightforward save from Davis after neat work with Adam Johnson.
Gaston Ramirez began to pull some strings in the Southampton midfield as the half wore on.
The Uruguayan firstly forced Simon Mignolet to parry away hastily, before firing just over with another vicious left-footed effort.
But it was Martin O’Neill’s side that opened the scoring just before the half-time break.
Johnson delivered a dangerous low cross from the left, which intended target Sessegnon sliced horribly.
Fortunately for the visitors, it fell to Fletcher’s feet and the Scot had no trouble tucking it away.
The second half started with a decent chance – Lambert shooting just over for Southampton – but it was again uninspiring from both teams.
Half-chances saw Johnson blaze over for the visitors and Jose Fonte’s header deflect wide for Nigel Adkins’ men, but there was little cutting edge.
Things got scrappy as the half continued with Johnson forced off after being on the wrong end of a tough tackle.
Sunderland did not mind the scrappiness one bit and held on for a crucial victory despite Ramirez and Guilherme do Prado going close for the hosts.
The win pushes Sunderland further away from the drop zone, while condemning Southampton to the opposite.