Fonte’s late intervention with a header from James Ward-Prowse’s free-kick was no less than the hosts had deserved, after the home side had trailed from the third minute of the contest thanks to Emanuele Giaccherini’s close range header early on.
‘If you can’t win, then you mustn’t lose’ is a well-worn phrase from Mauricio Pochettino, and that mantra was firmly in evidence as Saints never gave up on getting their just desserts from a contest where they laid siege to the Sunderland goal, particularly in the second half.
They found themselves up against one formidable opponent in particular with goalkeeper Kieren Westwood, the busier of the two stoppers on show, but the Irishman was finally beaten late on to give the home side hope of a dramatic late turnaround. The introductions of Gaston Ramirez, Nathaniel Clyne, and debutant Dani Osvaldo almost made the difference, but in settling for a draw, Saints made a solid start to their home campaign in 2013/14.
Mauricio Pochettino named the same starting eleven that performed so well on the opening-day at the Hawthorns
The hosts made a tidy start in possession, but after conceding a free-kick on the left flank inside the second minute, Saints were forced onto the backfoot. Wanyama headed Sebastian Larsson’s set piece clear, but from the resulting corner, Sunderland took the lead.
Larsson again with the delivery, but this time it made its way to the head of one of the visiting yellow shirts as Emanuel GIACCHERINI nodded in unchallenged for 1-0.
The early strike stunned the home side, but they were given an immediate lift by the crowd, who spurred them on to make a decent response.
They did so to good effect by having the ball in the net moments later when Jay Rodriguez slid home Lambert’s reverse pass, but the offside flag was raised against the frontman before his effort crossed the line.
A fiercely competitive start to the game showed no signs of slowing down in the opening ten minutes of action though, with the Black Cats looking dangerous on the break.
Fonte recovered well after Schneiderlin had been dispossessed in the middle of the park, but it wasn’t long before Saints were back on the attack.
A free-kick awarded for a foul on Lallana led to a cross-field pass flicked on by Dejan Lovren into the path of Ward-Prowse. The delivery on the by-line from the youngster found Lambert, whose powerful header at goal was kept out by wonderful low save from Kieren Westwood, down to his right with 18 minutes on the watch.
Saints stepped it up a notch in their next attack with a move led by the industry of Ward-Prowse. His determination saw the ball break to Rodriguez via Schneiderlin, but the poked effort towards goal from Rodriguez was deflected wide for a corner.
At the other end, Giaccherini fired over on the back of a break into the box from Altidore and Sessegnon. The strike from Sunderland’s goal scorer went high and wide as the hosts survived a brief scare on the counter.
On 26 minutes, Ward-Prowse became the first name to go into the referee’s notebook after a late challenge on halfway, and the hosts were further infuriated with some of the decision-making when Lambert was harshly penalised for a foul on Modibo Diakite, when if anything it should have been the other way around.
Sunderland’s Craig Gardner was next to see yellow just after the half hour after he had clattered into Luke Shaw, as the defender tried to make a break forward.
In the 36th minute Ward-Prowse’s searching free-kick delivery from the left flank went right the way through the area and evaded everyone inside the box, though Saints appealed in vain for a spot-kick as Fonte went to ground under a challenge from Black Cats skipper John O’Shea.
Saints maintained their pressure on the visitors with Lambert going close once more on 39 minutes as he headed narrowly over from another Ward-Prowse cross, with the midfielder continuing to make his presence felt across the final third.
Inside the final five minutes of the half, Fonte fired an ambitious drive wide, and in the dying embers of stoppage time, Saints were denied a clear-cut penalty after O’Shea had brought down Lallana in the box, but the appeals feel on deaf ears once more.
The home side could feel aggrieved at being behind at the break, but one decent low save aside, Kieren Westwood had remained largely untroubled.
HALF-TIME: SOUTHAMPTON 0-1 SUNDERLAND
Pochettino made two changes to the team at the break. Nathaniel Clyne entered the action in place of Shaw at left back, whilst new signing Dani Osvaldo also came on for his debut, replacing Schneiderlin.
The visitors also made a switch with Sessegon making way for Ji Dong-Won.
Ji almost made an immediate impression, testing Boruc with his first touch, whilst at the other end, Osvaldo played a clever short pass towards Lallana, but the assist was just cut out as Lallana shaped to shoot.
The pressure from the hosts almost told on 52 after a piece of quick-thinking from Clyne. The substitute’s throw into the path of Lambert was dinked on by the frontman’s head and into the path of Lallana, whose venomous volley just sprayed wide of the far post.
Ward-Prowse struck another strong shot wide before Sunderland made their second change of the afternoon with David Vaughan replacing Colback in midfield.
In a rare threat from the visitors, Adam Johnson fired over from range after being given too much room to take aim at goal from just outside of the box.
The chances returned for Saints with Osvaldo central to the link ups in the final third, and it was his perfectly weighted cross that Rodriguez almost converted, but Westwood was behind the frontman’s header at goal.
And after Brouc had saved well at his feet from Altidore, Westwood had to be at his best again on 59 when he sprawled across to keep out Lambert’s powerful drive from the edge of the area.
Larsson went into the book in the aftermath of the save, having said too much to referee Lee Mason.
Lambert worked Westwood again on 64 when he headed Chambers’ cross at the ‘keeper, as the home side continued to knock on the door. Soon after, Rodriguez fired over once more, with Sunderland having to weather a storm.
Clyne’s persistence led to a corner, which was taken once Lallana had departed the action and Gaston Ramirez taking the skipper’s place for the final 20 minutes or so in Pochettino’s last change.
A charge through the middle from Ramirez reaped its rewards two minutes into the sub’s arrival onto the pitch as the Uruguayan was bundled to the floor by O’Shea in an inviting position to shoot from the resulting free-kick.
Lambert lined it up with Ramirez and Osvaldo also standing over it, but the curled effort from Saints’ number seven skied over the frame of Westwood’s goal, as the visitors survived once more.
Saints pushed on in their pursuit of a leveller, taking a central route to goal with Ramirez and Rodriguez each attempting breaks through the middle, to try and find a response.
A deep cross from Ramirez was then headed down by Lambert and into the path of Osvaldo, who headed into the ground, and bounced up, but it didn’t trouble Westwood.
The Black Cats switched goal scorer Giaccherini with Connor Wickham for the final 10 minutes or so as there were no signs of the visitors shutting up shop late in the game.
Still chasing the equaliser, Osvaldo was cautioned for a late challenge on Diakite as frustrations grew heading into the closing stages where it seemed as though the hosts’ chances of taking anything from the game were slipping.
But just as it had looked like the opportunity had gone, a foul on Osvaldo inside the Sunderland half led to a free-kick which Ward-Prowse delivered perfectly into the path of Jose FONTE who connected perfectly to it with a header that finally beat Sunderland’s keeper with two minutes of the 90 remaining.
With four minutes of stoppage time added on, it was all hands to the pump in search of a winner as a dramatic turnaround late in the day suddenly appeared a realistic ambition.
A change in position of taking no points to all three wasn’t quite to be, but the endeavour and determination from the hosts not to be beaten shone through, as Saints settled for the draw.
FULL-TIME: SOUTHAMPTON 1-1 SUNDERLAND
Southampton team: Artur Boruc, Calum Chambers, Jose Fonte, Dejan Lovren, Luke Shaw (Nathaniel Clyne 46), Victor Wanyama, Morgan Schneiderlin (Dani Osvaldo 46), James Ward-Prowse, Adam Lallana (c) (Gaston Ramirez 69), Jay Rodriguez, Rickie Lambert.
Unused substitutes: Kelvin Davis, Steven Davis, Jack Cork, Jos Hooiveld
Sunderland team: Keiren Westwood, Craig Gardner, Ondrej Celustka, John O’Shea, Jack Colback (David Vaughan 54), Adam Johnson, Sebastian Larsson, Modibo Diakite, Emanuele Giaccherini, Stephane Sessegnon (Ji Dong-Won 46), Jozy Altidore.
Unused substitutes: Vito Mannone, Cabral, Connor Wickham, David Moberg-Karlsson, Valentin Roberge
Referee: Lee Mason