This was the first time we saw Gus Poyet really stamp his influence on the team. We took to it pretty well considering and managed to run out winners in a decent contest between two decent teams. Three managers, three cup games, three victories. Nice!
The Southampton game was almost the lost tie of the cup cup. First of all it was put back a week, and then very few people seemed to remember it was actually happening at all judging by the crowd and atmosphere that night.
The game itself wasn't all that memorable either really, though I do remember it as the first time we really saw Poyet's possession philosophy manifested on the pitch for a full 90 minutes. With Ki Sung-Yueng the metronomic presence at the heart of the side, Sunderland passed it with an almost annoying, yet ultimately effective, obsession.
One passage of play in particular stuck in my mind when the ball was worked out wide, yet the crossing opportunity was well closed-down and, instead of just lumping a hopeful cross probably against a defender, it was just worked back into midfield and they started again. A minute later, and without Southampton touching the ball, the same position was worked again and Emanuele Giaccherini should have scored.
There was very little glamourous about either the fixture or the game itself but, for genuinely the first time in years, I was sat at the Stadium of Light fully able to appreciate and understand what the team in red and white were trying to do. There was a pattern to the play; it was deliberate.
For that reason alone, it provided a real milestone in the mini-revival that followed and thrust the side back into the relegation scrap from a position of isolation at the bottom.
This game was one of the most significant games of the season, it could be argued.
When Poyet rolled into town we all initially worried ourselves sick that he'd try and introduce some state of the art passing system to the numbskull playing staff we had at our disposal. Too much, too soon and all that. What we actually got was pragmatism at its best against Newcastle to bring us much needed derby success and a glimmer of hope for the future. The failed replication at Hull was unsuccessful thanks largely to being reduced to nine men.
What we needed in an ideal world was a meaningless cup game to experiment with this new system that was inevitably on the horizon. A game we could sacrifice almost, really throw caution to the wind and give this footballing thing a try. And so it proved. .
It was the day before my brother's birthday, this game, so he persuaded me to go out straight from work. My thinking was that the drink may numb some of the pain that Southampton were likely to inflict on us. What we got, however, was that first little indication of the plan Gus Poyet had for Sunderland.
Southampton fielded a weakened side, so it would be foolish to ignore the fact that this was a factor. But this was still a Saints side that had a footballing identity firmly stamped throughout the squad and it was no easy task to try and implement a passing game with this lot. What we saw from around fifteen minutes in was like nothing I've ever seen from a Sunderland side in my lifetime. A clear plan that didn't revolve around direct football or stopping the other side from playing.
That may be a depressing statement, but it's true. We saw centre backs split, midfielders come searching for the ball, and chances created through patient play. I really do feel that this cup game came at the perfect time for us. We then took this new found philosophy into the game against Man City and duly won it.
Though our league position is still extremely precarious, it feels like we've never looked back since then and it was also the game that a lot of the Poyet doubters started to take note. Every single game in this cup run has had significant relevance to it. Every. Single. One. This match was certainly a reflection of that fact.
And watching Hooiveld try and cope with Altidore was hilarious.