Virgil van Dijk grabbed an injury-time equaliser for 10-man Southampton as a 1-1 draw denied Sunderland a precious win in their bid to avoid relegation from the Premier League.
The Wearsiders appeared on course for a third away win of the season when substitute Jermain Defoe put them ahead with five minutes to go, six minutes after Southampton’s Jose Fonte was red-carded for dragging down Fabio Borini.
But Fonte’s central defensive partner Van Dijk slammed home Dusan Tadic’s centre with time running out to hand Southampton a point they undoubtedly deserved on the balance of play.
The draw means Sunderland move a point clear of the bottom three but does little to further the Saints’ bid to end the season in a European qualifying place.
Ronald Koeman made five changes in response to the limp midweek defeat at AFC Bournemouth but it did little to aid the fluency of the hosts in the opening exchanges.
Although they enjoyed the bulk of the possession, Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone was rarely troubled. Ryan Bertrand whipping an 11th-minute free-kick over the crossbar was the closest the home side came to scoring.
Sunderland were content to play on the break and it was an approach which almost paid dividends midway through the first half, Dame N’Doye setting Borini clear down the left but his shot was deflected wide by Van Dijk.
Mannone made the first save of note after 26 minutes, reacting smartly to turn Tadic’s deflected effort over the bar.
His Southampton counterpart Fraser Forster was less convincing at the other end six minutes later as an over-hit Wahbi Khazri free-kick drifted over his head and onto the post with no Sunderland player on hand to tuck away the loose ball.
Both sides had chances before the break, Jack Rodwell slicing a volley horribly wide after excellent work down the left by Patrick van Aanholt before Mannone blocked a close-range effort from Oriol Romeu.
Borini twice came close in the first 15 minutes of the second period, hammering a volley over the bar from the edge of the box and then forcing Forster into a smart low save with a shot from a narrow angle.
Defoe’s introduction just before the hour mark did little to stem the tide towards the Sunderland goal, although clear-cut chances remained few and far between.
The momentum swung away from Southampton with 11 minutes to go, Jan Kirchhoff’s throughball sent Borini clear only for Fonte to bring him down on the edge of the area, prompting referee Neil Swarbrick to issue the Saints’ skipper with a red card.
Sebastian Larsson should have put Sunderland ahead after 83 minutes when he shot over when well-placed but his fellow replacement Defoe made no mistake two minutes later when he was picked out by a Lamine Kone centre.
Juanmi saw a shot deflected wide as Southampton pushed for an equaliser and it duly arrived in the 93rd minute, Tadic crossing for Van Dijk to finish well and deny Sam Allardyce a potentially crucial victory.
Key Opta stats:
– Jermain Defoe scored his 23rd Premier League goal as a substitute; more than any other player in the history of the competition.
– Eight of Defoe’s 11 Premier League goals this season have come away from home (73%).
– Defoe has scored seven goals in 10 Premier League appearances since January 1st 2016.
– Southampton received their fifth red card of the season in the Premier League, more than any other team.
– James Ward Prowse made his 100th Premier League appearance for Southampton in this match.
– Sunderland have gone 15 games without a clean sheet, the longest run of any team in the Premier League this season.
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