Always dangerous flooding forward, and with new record signing Italy striker Dani Osvaldo showing enough to suggest he will be a massive handful for defenders this season, their possession and flair so nearly counted for nothing after a sluggish start at St Mary's Stadium that left manager Mauricio Pochettino frustrated.
The match was only three minutes old when Southampton's defenders stood motionless watching an unremarkable Sunderland corner float to the far post. Emanuele Giaccherini had no-one to beat, nobody to outjump and he glanced his header past Artur Boruc to rock the Saints.
"We were asleep in the first three minutes -- it is not acceptable and I take responsibility for it," Saints' Argentine manager Pochettino said at St Mary's.
"It was disappointing to concede that goal so early on. The team really felt that and was in shock after that."
Certainly it was a wake-up for the snoozing Saints and they set about Sunderland with renewed vigour, Victor Wanyama owning the midfield in a physical fashion.
They put the visitors under siege but Paolo Di Canio's men held firm despite the trickery of Osvaldo, who featured for the whole second half, the early pace of Luke Shaw, the persistence of Rickie Lambert and the battering-ram runs of Jay Rodriguez.
There were only two minutes left on the clock, and the stadium was starting to empty, when Jose Fonte rose to glance a header past Keiren Westwood from a James Ward-Prowse free kick to hand Saints a well-deserved share of the spoils.
"If you look at the chances we created we deserved to win the match but games are not won by chances made but goals scored," Pochettino said. "I am a bit disappointed because our goal was to get three points. If you analyse the 94 or 95 minutes overall we fully deserved to win that match.
"We just have to learn from the situation and we need to be aware that in football you can't give anything away to your opposition. This is a big wake up call for it not to happen again."
Di Canio was disappointed not to take all three points back to the North-East after his smash-and-grab, but knew he had done well to escape with anything given the possession.
"We were leading at 1-0 but another set play cost us two points. It was a cheap free kick but 1-1 is more than acceptable," he said.
"We have to be honest, Southampton deserved to win this game because they played better.
"This is a tough league, we all know that, but we have time to improve. However, one point away from home against a fantastic side is a good result."
Southampton, with a win and a draw from their opening two games, sit fourth in the top flight while Sunderland, with one point, lie 15th.
Chelsea and Liverpool, both on two wins from two, are first and second.