LONDON, February 15 – Craig Gardner scored a magnificent winning goal as Sunderland beat Premier League rivals Southampton 1-0 on Saturday to become the first side to reach this season’s FA Cup quarter-finals.
The 27-year-old midfielder sent a dipping shot past visiting goalkeeper Kelvin Davis early in the second half to send two-time winners Sunderland into the last eight for the second time in three seasons.
The match at a less than half-full Stadium of Light was preceded by a minute’s applause in memory of former England great Tom Finney, who died on Friday aged 91, while the players also wore black armbands.
Both managers made sweeping changes to their starting line-ups — nine for Sunderland, six for Southampton — and it was the visitors who enjoyed the best of the first half.
James Ward-Prowse saw a half-volley saved by Oscar Ustari and Sunderland defender Santiago Vergini had to be alert to prevent Rickie Lambert applying the finishing touch to a Nathaniel Clyne cross.
It was an uneventful opening, but Gardner illuminated proceedings in the 49th minute with a goal of shimmering quality, side-stepping Victor Wanyama, marking his first start since early December after suffering a hairline fracture and dispatching a 25-yard shot that crashed in off the bar.
Lambert should have equalised for Southampton with nine minutes to play, but he somehow conspired to lift Clyne’s firmly struck cross over an open goal from barely five yards out.
Holders Wigan Athletic visit Cardiff City later on Saturday, while the day’s stand-out fixture sees Manchester City host Premier League title rivals Chelsea.
The game comes less than two weeks after Chelsea won 1-0 at the Etihad Stadium in the league and precedes Sunday’s headline tie between Arsenal and Liverpool.
Earlier on Saturday, the fifth-round encounter between second-tier sides Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton Athletic was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch at Wednesday’s Hillsborough home.