ADAM JOHNSON proved to be Sunderland’s hero again as the Black Cats earned a point from two goals down for the second time in four league games.
Johnson, who netted a hat-trick against Fulham seven days earlier, grabbed a second half equaliser for Gus Poyet’s side, despite being out-played for long spells against an impressive Southampton outfit.
The Saints utterly dominated the opening half-hour after going ahead in the fourth minute through Jay Rodriguez.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men spurned several opportunities to add to their advantage and hit the post before Dejan Lovren eventually doubled their advantage.
But Sunderland pulled one back moments later through Fabio Borini’s fourth of the season to give the Black Cats hope heading into the interval.
Southampton remained the better side in the second half and had several opportunities to restore their two-goal advantage, but Johnson’s right-footed rocket rescued a point for the Wearsiders.
Gus Poyet made two changes from the side which won at Fulham, with Jozy Altidore replacing Steven Fletcher up front and Seb Larsson coming in for Jack Colback in midfield.
Opposite number Mauricio Pochettino made one change with right-back Calum Chambers, who missed last weekend’s win against West Brom with illness, returning to the side at the expense of Nathaniel Clyne.
Southampton monopolised possession in the early stages and duly broke the deadlock in the fourth minute.
Sunderland couldn’t clear their lines and Morgan Schneiderlin headed the ball into the path of Jay Rodriguez, 20 yards out, who took a couple of touches to bring it under control before sweeping it sweetly into the bottom corner.
Vito Mannone was almost punished in the 13th minute when he collected Wes Brown’s pass-back on the right-hand side of the area.
The goalkeeper’s punt went straight to Jack Cork, in the centre-circle, whose attempted chip looped over the bar.
Sunderland had another let-off five minutes later when Luke Shaw’s low cross from the left was deflected off Adam Johnson and crashed against the outside of the post.
The game continued to be completely one-sided and Southampton went perilously close to doubling their advantage again in the 22nd minute.
Rickie Lambert played a one-two with Schneiderlin and received a chipped ball over the top which the England striker ran onto with space to get his shot away.
Lambert hit a right-footed half-volley across goal which missed the far post by inches.
Sunderland were spared again in the 29th minute after Brown’s loose touch allowed Lambert to rob him of possession.
Lambert fed Rodriguez, in behind, 15 yards out, but the striker could only send in a tame right-footed shot which Mannone was able to gather low to his left.
The second finally arrived two minutes later when Steven Davis’ corner from the right was met on the volley by Dejan Lovren, 12 yards out, who guided his right-footed shot into the far corner.
But within a minute, Sunderland had pulled one back.
Johnson lifted a beautifully weighted ball over the top from the right for Fabio Borini, who had beat the offside trap in behind the Saints defence.
Borini chested it down and scuffed a half-volley towards the far corner which goalkeeper Artur Boruc should have kept out, but couldn’t get enough on it with his outstretched arm.
Lambert tried his luck with a free-kick from 25 yards in first half stoppage time, but it was pushed behind by Mannone.
HALF-TIME Sunderland 1 Southampton 2
Calum Chambers tried his luck from distance in the 55th minute, but with a well-struck right-footed shot which swerved in the air before being gathered low to his left by Mannone.
Two minutes later, Sunderland’s stopper was again called into action at the end of a sweeping Southampton move.
Rodriguez nutmegged Lee Cattermole in the centre-circle and played it right to Lambert.
The striker played a return ball to Rodriguez on the edge of the area, whose first time right-footed shot towards the far corner was gathered at the second attempt by Mannone.
Southampton went close again in the 61st minute when Lambert pulled the ball back from the right and it was met first-time by Rodriguez whose right-footed shot went into the side netting.
Borini had a second goal ruled out in the 64th minute when he latched onto substitute Craig Gardner’s through-ball before tucking it under Boruc. Replays showed the Italian was correctly ruled to be offside.
But despite all of Southampton’s pressure, Sunderland drew level in the 71st minute.
Ki Sung-Yeung broke superbly down the left flank and picked out Gardner on the edge of the area.
Gardner spread it right to Johnson, who went down the outside of Southampton left-back Luke Shaw before powering a right-footed shot beyond a suspect Boruc.
Sunderland went close to going ahead in the 75th minute when Fletcher left Alonso’s pull-back to Gardner on the edge of the area, whose left-footed volley was pushed away by Boruc.
From the resulting corner, Gardner fired it into a crowded six-yard box and the ball landed to Fletcher, at an acute angle, two yards out, whose effort was blocked well by Boruc.
FULL-TIME Sunderland 2 Southampton 2
SUNDERLAND: Mannone, Bardsley, O’Shea, Brown, Alonso, Cattermole (Gardner 62), Larsson (Colback 62), Ki, Johnson, Borini, Altidore (Fletcher (71). Subs not used: Pickford, Celustka, Giaccherini, Roberge. Booked: Cattermole (10), Ki (38)
SOUTHAMPTON: Boruc, Chambers, Lovren (Yoshida 88), Fonte, Shaw, Schneiderlin, Cork, S Davis, Lallana (Ramirez 73, Ward-Prowse 87), Rodriguez, Lambert. Subs not used: K Davis, Clyne, Do Prado, Hooiveld.