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Sunderland Steven Fletcher and Lee Cattermole ruled out for season with injury

Fletcher and Cattermole ruled out for rest of the season in massive blow for Sunderland

By
Colin Young

PUBLISHED:

14:54 GMT, 27 March 2013

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UPDATED:

18:04 GMT, 27 March 2013

Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill was this afternoon dealt a devastating double blow when it was confirmed that both Steven Fletcher and Lee Cattermole will miss the rest of the season.

Leading scorer Fletcher suffered ankle ligament damage on international duty with Scotland last week, and midfielder Cattermole had surgery on a persistent knee problem earlier today.

Cattermole, meanwhile, has not played
for Sunderland since the 1-0 home defeat by Arsenal on February 9.

Agony: Fletcher was injured 90 seconds into Scotland's clash with Wales on Friday

Agony: Fletcher was injured 90 seconds into Scotland's clash with Wales on Friday

Lay-off: Sunderland now fear their top scorer could miss the rest of the season after an initial scan

Table

The statement added: 'Cattermole
underwent an operation on his knee earlier today and Fletcher sustained
ankle ligament damage whilst on international duty with Scotland.

'It is not known at this stage if
Fletcher will require an operation, with the injury requiring further
assessment in the coming weeks.

'Both players will play no further part in the Black Cats' 2012-13 Barclays Premier League season.'

The news could hardly have come at a
worse time for O'Neill, whose side find themselves firmly entrenched in
a battle for top-flight survival with eight games to
play.

They face leaders Manchester United
at the Stadium of Light on Saturday desperate to end a run of seven
league games without a victory, which has yielded just three points and
left them only four clear of the drop zone.

Fletcher in particular will be a huge
loss as he is top scorer with 11 goals.

However, having scored five in his
first four games for Sunderland following a 12million move from Wolves, he has managed only one in his last
seven, with the supply lines having dried up alarmingly.

Long-term absence: Lee Cattermole (left) has not played for the Black Cats since February

Long-term absence: Lee Cattermole (left) has not played for the Black Cats since February

Miliband stays at Sunderland

David Miliband is to remain a member of the club's board despite stepping down as MP for South Shields.

The former Labour Foreign Secretary has announced he is leaving UK politics to
take up a post with the US-based charity the International Rescue
Committee.

However, Mr Miliband, who joined the board as vice-chairman and
non-executive director in 2011, will maintain his links with the club.

Chief executive Margaret Byrne told Sunderland's official website: 'David's knowledge and experience have been a tremendous
benefit to Sunderland AFC.

'Naturally we are delighted that he is to continue in his role at the
club, and we also wish him every success with this new chapter of his
life.'

The 26-year-old was injured just two minutes into Scotland's 2-1 home defeat by Wales in Friday night's World Cup qualifier at Hampden Park and was carried from the field on a stretcher.

If he does need surgery, player and manager alike will hope he can return in time for the start of the new campaign.

O'Neill at least has January signing Danny Graham, who has played alongside Fletcher in recent weeks, at his disposal.

Cattermole has been plagued by injuries for much of his time on Wearside and has managed only two senior appearances since the end of November.

He had an injection in his injured knee several weeks ago in a bid to solve the problem once and for all, although O'Neill admitted at the time that an operation was a possibility.

Having visited his specialist again, the decision was taken to perform the surgery and write off the rest of the campaign.

Celtic player Scott Brown named Scotland manager by Gordon Strachan

Brown named Scotland captain for Strachan's first match in charge

PUBLISHED:

15:34 GMT, 5 February 2013

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UPDATED:

15:35 GMT, 5 February 2013


New skipper: Scotland manager Gordon Strachan has named Celtic's Scott Brown as his captain for the friendly with Estonia in Aberdeen tomorrow

New skipper: Scotland manager Gordon Strachan has named Celtic's Scott Brown as his captain for the friendly with Estonia in Aberdeen tomorrow

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan has named Scott Brown as his first captain.

Celtic skipper Brown will lead out the team for the first time ahead of tomorrow night's friendly against Estonia at Pittodrie.

'He already knows what it's like to be a captain with pressure and that made him favourite,' Strachan told a press conference in Aberdeen.

Gary Caldwell and Kenny Miller have shared captaincy duties in the absence of Darren Fletcher, who is battling a chronic bowel condition.

But Caldwell has returned to Wigan with an injury and 33-year-old Miller is unlikely to start as the Vancouver Whitecaps striker is in the midst of his close season.

Strachan confirmed Caldwell's withdrawal was one of several from his squad, adding: 'He's left. Grant (Hanley) has left too, they did well to come up, they'd really been struggling.

'Ross McCormack has left, he's got some sort of bug but he made it up here which was terrific.

'Young James (Forrest) went back because I felt it might be too much to play two games back to back for him. So he's away to Celtic and they'll look after him there.'

The Scotland boss is more than willing to co-operate with Clydesdale Bank Premier League managers as all parties aim to minimise player fatigue.

'I spoke to a lot of managers recently and I'm trying to do the best for the group and the best for the managers,' he added. 'The team that is picked is the best one we can put out tomorrow.

New dawn: Strachan takes charge of his first international match at Pittodrie in Aberdeen

New dawn: Strachan takes charge of his first international match at Pittodrie in Aberdeen

'We're taking into consideration the last time they played, the conditions they played in and who'll be playing at the weekend.

'We'll try to help them and try to get something positive for ourselves.'

Strachan is preparing to make his debut as Scotland manager at the ground where he spent seven successful years as a player between 1977 and 1984.

Out: Gary Caldwell has returned to Wigan after picking up an injury

Out: Gary Caldwell has returned to Wigan after picking up an injury

He added: 'When I first got the job I thought 'wherever the first game is, it will be fantastic' but I think I've realised it's even more special that I'm going back to Aberdeen where I enjoyed smashing times with great players.

'I'm going back again 30-odd years later and the best wishes have been overwhelming, especially in Aberdeen. The people that I've met around this area recently have made it even more special.

'The group Craig (Levein) passed to me are a smashing bunch of players and sometimes they're over enthusiastic but we can always curtail that.'

Danny Graham to join Sunderland for 5.5m despite Newcastle links

Sunderland's 5.5m deal for Graham almost done… but will he want to join them after last night's abuse from the fans

By
Declan Warrington

PUBLISHED:

11:02 GMT, 30 January 2013

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UPDATED:

11:32 GMT, 30 January 2013

Danny Graham will today complete his 5.5m transfer from Swansea to Sunderland after refusing to be deterred by the vicious abuse aimed at him from the Wearside club's fans during last night's 0-0 draw between the two sides.

Manager Martin O'Neill has targeted the Newcastle-supporting frontman to ease the goalscoring burden on Steven Fletcher after being replaced at Swansea by Michu.

But Sunderland's fans, still angry about his dismissal of the club during his time at Watford, booed him throughout, labelling him “scum” and “a w****r” and ensuring he can continue to expect such hostility even after his signing is confirmed.

Hostile: Graham was abused by Sunderland's fans last night, even though he will sign for them today

Hostile: Graham was abused by Sunderland's fans last night, even though he will sign for them today

'Put it this way. I would stay as far away from Sunderland as I could', Graham once responded when asked who he would support if Newcastle no longer existed. 'It would probably have to be Gateshead.'

It is this for which the striker, who wasted an injury-time chance to win the game for Swansea, has not been forgiven. Though the rivalry that exists between Newcastle and Sunderland has always been fierce, for a new signing to be so unwelcome is regardless unusual.

Frustrated: Danny Graham

Unwelcome: Danny Graham

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Newcastle fan Lee Clark enjoyed a successful period at Sunderland after signing from their rivals – albeit before an acrimonious exit – but Graham's reception in many ways mirrors that experienced by Rafa Benitez at Chelsea.

Unwanted: Chelsea fans still do not accept Benitez

Unwanted: Chelsea fans still do not accept Benitez

The Spaniard was intensely booed upon his unveiling as Chelsea manager and has still not been accepted by the club's fans who continue to show their support for his predecessor Roberto Di Matteo, effectively making his job consistently more difficult.

Danny Graham latest: Newcastle supporting striker made anti-Sunderland comment in old interview

Black Cats target Graham: I would stay as far away from Sunderland as I could!

By
Rik Sharma

PUBLISHED:

20:23 GMT, 17 January 2013

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UPDATED:

20:55 GMT, 17 January 2013

Danny Graham is close to a 5million move to Sunderland but if he signs for the Wearside club it will be a controversial move to say the least.

The Gateshead-born striker supports Newcastle and in an interview conducted during his time at Watford was asked who he would support if his club ceased to exist.

Graham replied: 'Put it this way. I would stay as far away from Sunderland as I could. It would probably have to be Gateshead.'

Controversial switch: Danny Graham is close to moving to Sunderland... but he is a renowned Newcastle fan

Controversial switch: Danny Graham is close to moving to Sunderland… but he is a renowned Newcastle fan

History: Graham answered the bottom question provocatively while at Watford

History: Graham answered the bottom question provocatively while at Watford

Many Black Cats fans were already upset about the move for the 27-year-old attacker and the old interview snippet being dug up and posted on Twitter will not go down well at the Stadium of Light.

One Sunderland supporter posted on a fans forum: 'Danny Graham is a born and bred Mag and he really doesn't like us. If he signed he would just take the p*** like all the others have.

'This, like ALL other craa [slang for Newcastle supporter] supporting players we have had in recent history, will end in tears.'

Another added: 'I just think Danny Graham is a disaster waiting to happen.'

Sunderland need to bring in a new forward to ease the burden on Steven Fletcher. The former Wolves hitman has the lion's share of their goals this season, with eight goals out of the club's 30.

Alex Ferguson says his priority is Europe, not the FA Cup

Keeping it Real: Fergie wants the FA Cup but Europe remains the priority

By
Chris Wheeler

PUBLISHED:

22:43 GMT, 4 January 2013

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UPDATED:

23:48 GMT, 4 January 2013

For all Manchester United’s desire to lift a trophy they last won nine years ago, the simple fact is that the fifth and sixth rounds of this season’s FA Cup fall in the same week as the Champions League.

‘Let’s be honest,’ said Sir Alex Ferguson on Friday. ‘Would you rather be at West Ham or Real Madrid’

He did not expect an answer.

Priorities: Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson will be trying his hardest to win the FA Cup, but the reality is that the Champions League tie with Real Madrid falls between the fifth and sixth rounds of the competition

Priorities: Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson will be trying his hardest to win the FA Cup, but the reality is that the Champions League tie with Real Madrid falls between the fifth and sixth rounds of the competition

It’s traditional at this time of year to talk up the old competition and the romance of the third round.

But even if he can navigate a difficult trip to Upton Park today and then the fourth round, it’s clear the United manager will have to dig deep into his reserves to successfully take the next two steps on the road to Wembley with Jose Mourinho’s Madrid providing a sizeable distraction.

The Spaniards apart, though, Ferguson is sincere in his ambition to win the FA Cup for the first time since beating Millwall in 2004.

Drought: United have not won the FA Cup since beating Millwall 3-0 in 2004

Drought: United have not won the FA Cup since beating Millwall 3-0 in 2004

His fondness for the competition was clear in the press conference as he recalled the two Cup final defeats by Arsenal and Chelsea since then, and went even further back to 1996 when United met Liverpool’s Spice Boys in their creamy white suits.

‘That horrible final,’ said Ferguson. ‘One of the worst in the history of mankind. I saw Roy Evans’ face, looking around at the bakers’ XI. Roy was mortified. I thought it was a 1-0 victory for us straightaway!’

Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs played in that one. But along with Darren Fletcher, who played in the win over Millwall in Cardiff, and Robin van Persie, who scored in Arsenal’s penalty shootout victory over United in 2005, they are the only members of the current squad with winner’s medals.

'That horrible final': Ferguson remembers the 1996 final, in which Eric Cantona (right) scored the only goal of the game, none too fondly

'That horrible final': Ferguson remembers the 1996 final, in which Eric Cantona (right) scored the only goal of the game, none too fondly

Rio Ferdinand, a United player for more than 10 years, is still waiting.

‘It’s amazing, we’ll have to do something about it,’ said Ferguson.

Missing: The FA Cup remains the only club honour missing from Rio Ferdinand's (pictured) collection

Missing: The FA Cup remains the only club honour missing from Rio Ferdinand's (pictured) collection

‘Rio mentioned it in the dressing room before we went out against Liverpool last year so it means a lot to him and will do to someone who has been in the game for that length of time.

‘The Champions League, without doubt, is the bigger challenge. You have all the big clubs in there now and we are playing Real Madrid.

'It’s a fact of life, but the FA Cup is still the best domestic cup in the world.

‘It still holds the romance about it when you are waiting for the draw. West Ham away is a particularly hard one.

'We’ll play a strong team and hopefully we can get through.’

Wayne Rooney will play no part after he was ruled out for another two weeks with his knee injury.

Ferdinand could also be rested, but Ferguson insisted the veteran is coping with his back problem better than in recent years, and is confident he will sign a new deal even though he is free to speak to foreign clubs.

‘I don’t think Rio wants to leave and I don’t think he is panicking about that,’ said Ferguson. ‘We’re comfortable with it.’

Sunderland 1 Manchester City 0 – match report

Sunderland 1 Manchester City 0: Old boy Johnson comes back to haunt Mancini as Black Cats take all three points

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UPDATED:

18:13 GMT, 26 December 2012

Adam Johnson came back to haunt Manchester City as the champions slipped to a third successive Barclays Premier League defeat at Sunderland.

The England winger, who was considered surplus to requirements at the Etihad Stadium during the summer and was allowed to join the Black Cats in a 10million move, embarrassed former team-mate Joe Hart with a dipping 53rd-minute strike which beat him at the near post and clinched three precious points for his new employers.

However, the winner was not without controversy with the visitors adamant they should have been awarded a free-kick for a foul on Pablo Zabaleta during the build-up.

Making the difference: Adam Johnson celebrates scoring against City

Making the difference: Adam Johnson celebrates scoring against City

Match facts

Sunderland: Mignolet, Larsson (Campbell 78), Cuellar, Kilgallon, Rose (Bardsley 88), Gardner, McClean, Colback, Johnson, Sessegnon, Fletcher.

Subs not used: Westwood, Wickham, McFadden, Vaughan, Bramble.

Booked: Colback.

Goals: Johnson 53.

Man City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Toure (Barry 86), Nastasic, Milner, Javi Garcia (Lescott 89), Toure , Silva,Aguero, Tevez (Dzeko 72).

Subs not used: Pantilimon, Sinclair, Rekik, Razak.

Booked: Kompany, Toure, Nastasic.

Attendance: 42,190

Referee: Kevin Friend

Latest Premier League table and results

Sunderland turned in one of their best displays of the season on a day when City played only fitfully, and Hart had to turn away Steven Fletcher's skidding effort and keep out Stephane Sessegnon 10 minutes from time.

However, if Johnson was the hero in front of a delighted Boxing Day crowd of 42,190, keeper Simon Mignolet deserved equal praise.

The Belgian denied Yaya Toure and David Silva before the break and Sergio Aguero after it to claim a precious clean sheet and make a huge contribution towards the win.

City arrived determined not to complete an unwanted hat-trick of 1-0 league defeats on Wearside and, after a lacklustre start, eased themselves into the game.

They might have been ahead with just eight minutes gone, but Vincent Kompany's header came back off the crossbar and Yaya Toure's goalbound follow-up was hacked away by Mignolet, who reacted instantly to deny the visitors an early lead.

Silva curled a 10th-minute free-kick
wastefully over the bat and Toure saw a curling effort plucked from
underneath the crossbar by Mignolet three minutes later.

Christmas cheer: Craig Gardner (centre) celebrates with team mates following his sides win over City

Christmas cheer: Craig Gardner (centre) celebrates with team mates following his sides win over City

Dejected: Carlos Tevez looks frustrated as City could not find a goal

Dejected: Carlos Tevez looks frustrated as City could not find a goal

City were pinning Sunderland deep inside their own half and it seemed only a matter of time before they made the pressure tell.

Mignolet had to be at his best once
again with 24 minutes gone after Carlos Tevez and Aguero combined to put
Silva in on goal, only for Mignolet to block his effort at close range.

But
seconds later Hart had to dive to his right to turn away Fletcher's
rasping left-foot drive and the Black Cats, buoyed after weathering the
early storm, started to force their way into the game.

Beaten man: Adam Johnson (not pictured) gets the ball past Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart

Beaten man: Adam Johnson (not pictured) gets the ball past Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart

Mixed emotions: The Sunderland players and fans celebrate as Hart and Kompany look on

Mixed emotions: The Sunderland players and fans celebrate as Hart and Kompany look on

Johnson was enjoying the better of his individual battle with Zabaleta, who played much of the half with a heavily bandaged head after suffering a cut, and as James McClean took up the theme, Martin O'Neill's men upped their tempo.

Kompany and Matija Nastasic had to repel dangerous crosses from Sebastian Larsson and McClean respectively, and Sessegnon flashed a header well wide from Craig Gardner's driven 42nd-minute cross.

In the wars: Pablo Zabaleta gets a cut after Steven Fletcher catches him with his boot

In the wars: Pablo Zabaleta gets a cut after Steven Fletcher catches him with his boot

Body on the line: Zabaleta has blood pouring from his head after the incident

Body on the line: Zabaleta has blood pouring from his head after the incident

Back in business: Zabaleta returns with his head bandaged

Back in business: Zabaleta returns with his head bandaged

Larsson drilled a late free-kick straight into the defensive wall, but he and his team-mates left the pitch at the break with their clean sheet intact and everything still to play for.

Sunderland picked up where they had left off after the restart as McClean and Johnson, with the help of Sessegnon and Fletcher, stretched City uncomfortably at times. It was they who took the lead with eight minutes of the half played.

City boss Roberto Mancini and Zabaleta were left appealing in vain for a free-kick for Gardner's challenge on the full-back, but Johnson picked up possession and cut inside before blasting in a dipping shot which caught Hart flat-footed at his near post and squirmed into the bottom corner.

Sessegnon might have doubled his side's advantage within two minutes, but pulled his effort across the face of goal with City in disarray.

Old boy: Former City winger Adam Johnson scored against his former side

Old boy: Former City winger Adam Johnson scored against his former side

Getting stuck in: Jack Colback and Matt Kilgallon challenge Manchester City's Carlos Tevez

Getting stuck in: Jack Colback and Matt Kilgallon challenge Manchester City's Carlos Tevez

Stopped in his tracks: Sergio Aguero is halted by Colback

Stopped in his tracks: Sergio Aguero is halted by Colback

The visitors were almost breached once again on the hour when McClean picked out Sessegnon in front of goal, but the Benin international could not take the ball in his stride.

Kompany, who had already been booked, was fortunate to escape a second yellow card for a block on McClean as City struggled to contain a Black Cats side growing in confidence by the minute.

But the visitors gradually regained their composure and started to move the ball confidently once again and Mignolet had to claim a 68th-minute Zabaleta cross at his near post after being played in by James Milner.

Eyes on the ball: Steven Fletcher and Vincent Kompany fight for the ball

Eyes on the ball: Steven Fletcher and Vincent Kompany fight for the ball

The Belgium international excelled himself once again two minutes later to deny Aguero one on one, but it was Hart in the firing line with 10 minutes remaining when Sessegnon was played in by substitute Fraizer Campbell with the keeper coming out on top.

City battered away at their hosts as time ran down, but with Sunderland defending deep and with tenacity, they simply could not find a way through and McClean almost served up the perfect finish with an 88th-minute shot which flew just wide.

Bad day: Roberto Mancini saw his side lose ground on Manchester United as they failed to win

Bad day: Roberto Mancini saw his side lose ground on Manchester United as they failed to win

Steven Fletcher backs Sunderland revival after beating Southampton

Red-hot Fletcher revels in Sunderland revival after victory over Southampton

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UPDATED:

15:09 GMT, 23 December 2012

Steven Fletcher always knew Sunderland's season would start to turn around and believes their win at Southampton will help them through their tough Christmas period.

The Black Cats have struggled this season and headed to St Mary's in 16th place, just a point and a place better off than the hosts.

Fletcher's first half strike proved the difference in appalling conditions on the south coast as Martin O'Neill's side eked out a 1-0 win to make it two victories from their last three matches.

Festive cheer: Steven Fletcher celebrates his winner at Southampton for Sunderland

Festive cheer: Steven Fletcher celebrates his winner at Southampton for Sunderland

'We're all professional boys,' the Scotland international said. 'We all know what is needed when we need to go and win game.

'I thought it was a good performance. We attacked well and defended well so you're always going to win games when you play like that.

'Sometimes it is not pretty and we ground it out. We needed the three points and we got that.

'We're just happy we got three points and a good performance as well.'

It is a result that Fletcher hopes can act as a catalyst for further success this Christmas, with Manchester City, Tottenham and Liverpool all lying in wait.

'We approach them with a bit of confidence,' the striker said.

Pleased as punch: Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill was delighted after his side picked up three points away from home

Pleased as punch: Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill was delighted after his side picked up three points away from home

'We know we've got a hard Christmas period coming up but we've built a bit of confidence and we'll take that into the next game.

'The boys are all very tight. We all get on very well. It is a good bunch of lads.

'If we keep our heads down and keep working hard, we'll get results like this.'

Fletcher's instinctive strike was the summer signing's eighth league goal of the campaign.

The 25-year-old has shone for Sunderland and would like nothing more than to add to his tally when City visit the Stadium of Light on Boxing Day.

'I think Sessy [Stephane Sessegnon] will take an assist for that one but I think he had a shot,' he said with a smile.

'I am just glad I got another goal and we got the win.

'It just came to me quick and my instinct was to side-foot it away. Luckily for me it went in the back of the net.

'It would be nice to get a goal under my belt and another win, but we'll wait to see what happens.”

Southampton 0 Sunderland 1: Steven Fletcher pushes Black Cats away from danger zone

Southampton 0 Sunderland 1: Fletcher edges Black Cats away from danger zone

PUBLISHED:

16:51 GMT, 22 December 2012

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UPDATED:

17:11 GMT, 22 December 2012

Steven Fletcher's strike proved the difference as Sunderland took all three points from their long trip to fellow strugglers Southampton.

The Scotland international's effort three minutes from the end of the first half proved the difference in an even encounter at St Mary's.

Only a point separated 16th-placed Sunderland and the hosts coming into the match, with Southampton also a place worse off than the north-east side.

The goalden touch: Top scorer Steven Fletcher sealed a precious away win for Sunderland

The goalden touch: Top scorer Steven Fletcher sealed a precious away win for Sunderland

The goalden touch: Top scorer Steven Fletcher sealed a precious away win for Sunderland

Match facts

Southampton: Kelvin Davis, Clyne, Yoshida, Fonte, Shaw, Puncheon (Do Prado 80), Cork, Schneiderlin (Steven Davis 59), Mayuka (De Ridder 55), Lambert, Ramirez. Subs not used: Boruc, Hooiveld, Rodriguez, Richardson.

Sunderland: Mignolet, Gardner, Cuellar, O'Shea, Rose, Johnson (Campbell 74), Colback, Larsson (Bardsley 70), McClean, Sessegnon (Vaughan 89), Fletcher. Subs not used: Westwood, Wickham, McFadden, Bramble.

Booked: Larsson, Johnson, Bardsley.

Goal: Fletcher 42.

Referee: Howard Webb.

Attendance: 31,275.

Latest Premier League results, fixtures and table

Martin O'Neill's side had lost three
of four matches in December but looked dangerous from the outset, with
Stephane Sessegnon forcing an exquisite save from former Black Cats
goalkeeper Kelvin Davis in the opening minute.

A deflected Rickie Lambert free-kick
was the closest Saints came in a first half in which Fletcher swept the
opener home late on.

Saints pressed for a leveller
throughout the second period but looked devoid of ideas and were unable
to find a way past Sunderland, who held on for their second away win of
the season.

Fletcher, Adam Johnson and Danny Rose
all overcame knocks to start for the hosts, who came close in the
opening seconds as Davis superbly denied Sessegnon from 25 yards.

John O'Shea nodded over from the
resulting corner much to the relief of Southampton, who were jolted into
action by the Black Cats' explosive start.

Jason Puncheon saw a threatening prod
goalwards denied by Carlos Cuellar and, after a dangerous Morgan
Schneiderlin free-kick was dealt with, Lambert was inches away from the
opener.

Mixed emotions: Sunderland celebrate Steven Fletcher's opener, but it's doom and gloom for Southampton's Rickie Lambert

Mixed emotions: Sunderland celebrate Steven Fletcher's opener, but it's doom and gloom for Southampton's Rickie Lambert

After Craig Gardner brought down
Emmanuel Mayuka, making his first Premier League start, on the edge of
the box, the Saints striker's low driven free-kick was deflected just
wide of the far post.

Sebastian Larsson was denied by Davis
when Sunderland returned to the attack, before Fletcher directed a
Gardner cross just wide and James McClean saw a tame effort from
distance saved.

Going down: Southampton's Luke Shaw battles with Fraizer Campbell

Going down: Southampton's Luke Shaw battles with Fraizer Campbell

O'Neill's side were looking the bigger threat but record signing Gaston Ramirez was proving a thorn in their side.

Simon Mignolet did well to deal with
an awkward dipping effort from 20 yards before the Uruguay international
curled over from distance.

In a battle: Stephane Sessegnon skips away from Schneiderlin

In a battle: Stephane Sessegnon skips away from Schneiderlin

Both sides were playing cautiously in a bid to find the opener, with the defences dealing with any potential threats.

First Cuellar denied Lambert as he
prepared to break through on goal and then Maya Yoshida did well to stop
Fletcher meeting a driven Gardner cross from the right.

Off-balance: Sebastian Larsson and Morgan Schneiderlin compete for the ball at St Mary's

Off-balance: Sebastian Larsson and Morgan Schneiderlin compete for the ball at St Mary's

Puncheon saw a strike blocked by O'Shea as Saints looked to end the half on top, only for Fletcher to break the deadlock.

Johnson's low cross from the left was played on by Sessegnon for the Scotland international to sweep home a 42nd-minute opener.

Under pressure: Kelvin Davis clears from Sessegnon

Under pressure: Kelvin Davis clears from Sessegnon

Referee Howard Webb waved away
Mayuka's penalty appeals as the first half came to a close, with Lambert
firing just over 30 seconds after the restart.

Sunderland could have had a second
had somebody connected with a drilled Gardner effort before Johnson
fired over, leading Adkins to shuffle the pack.

Vital victory: Sunderland skipper John O'Shea hails the win

Vital victory: Sunderland skipper John O'Shea hails the win

Steve de Ridder, making his first Premier League appearance of the season, and Steven Davis came on for Mayuka and Schneiderlin.

De Ridder almost made an immediate
impression as he found Jose Fonte with a corner, but the Portuguese
defender could only nod wide.

Kicking every ball: Martin O'Neill and Nigel Adkins look on anxiously from the sidelines

Kicking every ball: Martin O'Neill and Nigel Adkins look on anxiously from the sidelines

Sunderland, though, were frustrating a Saints side lacking inspiration as the rain hammered down.
Puncheon was dispossessed as he ran through on goal and Steven Davis saw
a shot blocked by Jack Colback as the hosts desperately sought a
leveller.

Davis saved an audacious Gardner
free-kick from range, before Guly do Prado came on for Puncheon in a
final throw of the dice by the hosts.

However, Southampton had a late
penalty appeal waved away and Do Prado saw a stoppage-time shot blocked,
meaning the 1,814 travelling fans would leave happy.

Steven Fletcher fit for Sunderland v Southampton

Sunderland hitman Fletcher shakes off ankle injury ahead of Saints relegation battle

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UPDATED:

21:00 GMT, 20 December 2012

Sunderland top scorer Steven Fletcher has handed Martin O’Neill a welcome boost and will be fit to face Southampton after a full week of training.

The Scotland international has been struggling with an ankle injury and he was forced off in last week’s defeat at Manchester United.

His return to full fitness is vital for Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill ahead of Saturday’s visit to Southampton and stand-in skipper John O’Shea has now urged his team-mates to match Fletcher’s outstanding standards this season.

Goal machine: Steven Fletcher is fit for Sunderland as they travel down south

Goal machine: Steven Fletcher is fit for Sunderland as they travel down south

Fletcher has scored seven goals since his 12million switch from Wolves, and has been one of the Wearside club’s most consistent performers along with Danny Rose and Simon Mignolet.

Republic of Ireland international O’Shea has accepted Sunderland have been a let-down this season and have been embroiled in a relegation fight before a Christmas period which includes home clashes with Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.

He said: 'Thankfully we have got Steven Fletcher. I don’t know where we would be without his goals.

'He came here with a bit of a price-tag on his head, he settled in straight away, he’s a great lad who works hard. The manager has said he is a quiet lad who doesn’t say much but as long as he is scoring goals he can stay as quiet as he likes.

'His finishing is top drawer as he has shown with his goals. They have been really top class finishes. He has had to deal with having a big price-tag in his next few moves but that has not affected him one bit.

'Fingers crossed we keep him fit as much as we can. He has had a few little niggles but nothing major, thankfully. It’s up to the rest of the lads now.

Leader: John O'Shea will take over as captain in Lee Cattermole's absence

Leader: John O'Shea will take over as captain in Lee Cattermole's absence

'I’m sure Steven himself will want to
improve and he can do better. It’s about the whole team and squad –
especially when the manager makes or two changes, which he will during
this period.’

Sunderland
have won just three Premier League games in 25 under O’Neill and were
dragged into the bottom three earlier in the month.

O’Shea, who will captain the side at Southampton on Saturday in Lee Cattermole’s absence, believes a major improvement is within Sunderland’s capabilities.

He added: 'We keep talking after games about finishing well, but we have zero points from them. We can’t keep saying that and we have to make sure we do our jobs for the 90 minutes. We can’t keep doing what we doing or the end of the season will come round very quickly.

Pressure: Martin O'Neill has endured a tough season so far

Pressure: Martin O'Neill has endured a tough season so far

'The season has been stop-start. You think you are getting yourself going, then you suffer a defeat you’re not expecting and there’s a lot of room for improvement. There definitely is. We are not incapable of doing it.

'The top ten is not far away. We have seen where a team like Norwich have shot up the table with a good run and we are more than capable of that.

'You obviously hope at the start of the season you are up there competing for European positions and you are doing brilliantly but the reality is we were having a tough time last season as well.

'We are still in that tough spot at the minute. We will have to keep ourselves together to get out of it but we know we have the people and the manager to do it.'

Manchester United players and WAGs at UNICEF charity gala

Manchester United stars suited and booted for charity dinner at Old Trafford

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UPDATED:

10:01 GMT, 20 December 2012

The stars of Manchester United were out in force on Wednesday night for the club's annual gala dinner.

Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand fronted the star-studded cast arriving at Old Trafford for the dinner in aid of charity UNICEF.

Questioning: Rio Ferdinand is joined on stage by Nemanja Vidic, Wayne Rooney and co at Unted's gala dinner as they are interviewed by BBC political editor Nick Robinson

Questioning: Rio Ferdinand is joined on stage by Nemanja Vidic, Wayne Rooney and co at Unted's gala dinner as they are interviewed by BBC political editor Nick Robinson

Cheer up, Ryan: A rather glum looking Giggs poses for a picture with team-mates Rooney and Fletcher

Cheer up, Ryan: A rather glum looking Giggs poses for a picture with team-mates Rooney and Fletcher

Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney

Chris Smalling

Double act: Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney strike a pose with Chris Smalling and partner Sam Cooke

Sir Alex Ferguson however was a notable absentee.

The United boss, whose secrets behind
his unrivalled success at Old Trafford were in part revealed following an
unprecedented study by Harvard University, didn't join his side at the
black-tie affair despite his name being mentioned on the official
invite.

Patrice Evra

Darren Fletcher

Suit you, sir: Patrice Evra and Darren Fletcher look the part as they arrive at the home of Manchester United

Happy: Hernandez shares a joke with Valencia while Cleverley, Young and Welbeck are all smiles (below)

Happy: Hernandez shares a joke with Valencia while Cleverley, Young and Welbeck are all smiles (below)

Happy: Hernandez shares a joke with Valencia while Cleverley, Young and Welbeck are all smiles (below)

The United boss is unlikely to be
happy that his side playing three games in seven days over the Festive
period starting with a tricky trip to Swansea on Sunday.

United will begin the tough run of games with a six-point cushion over rivals Manchester City as they
attempt to wrestle back the Premier League trophy to the red half of the
city.

SHINJI KAGAWA

Jonny Evans

Thumbs up: Shinji Kagawa (left) and Jonny Evans with his girlfriend Helen McConnell

In the swing: United veteran Ryan Giggs arrives at the star-studded evening at Old Trafford

In the swing: United veteran Ryan Giggs arrives at the star-studded evening at Old Trafford

Men in black: Tom Cleverley, Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck pose for the assorted media

Men in black: Tom Cleverley, Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck pose for the assorted media

Nick Powell

Alexander Buttner

Picture perfect: Summer signings Nick Powell and Alexander Buttner with their respective partners

Lat year's gala raised 130,000 for
charity and some punters would have paid in excess of 3,500 a ticket
for last night's do which included a three-course meal, free bottle of
wine and a VIP drinks reception at the United museum, according to the
club's website.

Catherine Tyldesley

Catherine Tyldesley

Red Devil: Coronation Street actress Catherine Tyldesley arriving at Old Trafford for the gala dinner

PS United are always in the news… but what are you doing here, Nick

The evening was hosted by BBC political editor Nick Robinson – a lifelong Manchester United fan who is from Macclesfield

Holding the mic: Nick Robinson