Gus Poyet’s side have already reached the final of the Capital One Cup this season after beating Manchester United and Chelsea and they moved within one game of a second Wembley trip despite making nine changes for the visit of the Saints, who were unbeaten since January 1.
However, the atmosphere was less than fervent inside the Stadium of Light, with just 16,777 turning up.
Southampton made changes themselves, with manager Mauricio Pochettino opting to rest top scorer Jay Rodriguez as well as Morgan Schneiderlin and Jose Fonte. The result was a disjointed and scrappy affair consisting of few chances in front of a half-full Stadium of Light, but Gardner’s excellent effort from outside the area in the 50th minute was worthy of sealing victory.
Southampton, who looked off the pace and lacking in confidence for large parts of the game as they struggled to string passes together or create cohesive chances, stepped up a gear towards the end of the game and began to look dangerous.
28' - A mistake by Nathaniel Clyne allows Giaccherini to attack the Southampton box but he takes too long and team-mate Gardner gets in his way. By the time he gets his shot off it is blocked.
38' - A great run by Clyne down the right allows him to deliver a cross towards Lambert who is just beaten to the ball by Vergini. Big chance for Southampton.
50' - GOAL: Sunderland 1-0 Southampton - Gardner breaks the deadlock to put Sunderland in front with an absolute belter from distance into the top corner via the underside of the bar. That could be just what the game needs.
73' - Wickham goes close to doubling Sunderland's advantage after drifting between two defenders to latch onto a long ball but he can't make proper contact.
78' - Clyne makes it to the byline and cuts the ball across the goalline but Lallana can't make a clean contact with the ball and drags his shot wide.
81' - Davis finds Clyne down the right who rolls the ball across goal for Lambert to tap in, but the England international manages to put the ball over the bar from close range. Howler.
85' - Wickham turns out of a corner on the halfway line to beat two men and run into space before breaking at pace, but instead of passing to Borini, who is in space, the young striker opts to go alone and shoots wide.
89' - Davis denies Sunderland a second goal, as Colback lays off the ball to Borini on the edge of the box but his effort is saved.
In eight FA Cup meetings between the teams, Sunderland have progressed on six occasions.
Sunderland are unbeaten in four games against Southampton this season, having knocked them out of the Capital One Cup and drawn twice in the Premier League.
Southampton have lost eight out of their last nine FA Cup games against top-flight sides.
What is Sunderland’s potential under Poyet? After sitting bottom of the Premier League at Christmas, Sunderland were quickly written off by many, but former Brighton boss Poyet has rejuvenated them to such an extent that they look a good bet for survival, are in the Capital One Cup final and the last eight of the FA Cup. If they carry on like this and Poyet is allowed to develop his own team and style there is no reason they can’t become a top-ten side in the top-flight.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Craig Gardner (Sunderland): The tenacious midfielder was a constant thorn in Southampton’s side, regularly joining in attacks, getting in behind the visitors’ defence to varying effects and also joining in the midfield battle when given the chance. His stunning winning strike alone is worthy of the Man of the Match tag.