April 30, 2015

Southampton find themselves in the same spot they ended last season, but the feeling thus far has often been different than it was a year ago.

That's started to change with a seven-match unbeaten span in all competitions, and there's a good chance that'll continue Saturday when they head to the Stadium of Light to take on a second straight team struggling to stay off the foot of the table.

The Saints (4-5-2), seventh on 17 points after Sunday's 2-0 home win over Bournemouth, have five wins and two draws with a plus-13 goal differential including two League Cup matches since last losing to Manchester United at St. Mary's Stadium on Sept. 20.

Their two losses match last season's total through 11 games, but they're four wins shy of that scorching start.

"It's too early to speak about some things, but for us it was really difficult at the beginning because everyone expected we would show the same as last year," Dusan Tadic told the club's official website. "You need a little bit of time for that and I think now everything is going well."

Their manager still thinks a complete 90 minutes is lacking. Against Bournemouth, Steven Davis gave the Saints a 31st-minute lead before Graziano Pelle added to it five minutes later - both impressive team strikes that developed out of the kind of play that hints at what kind of threat Southampton possess when at their best.

But Ronald Koeman wants to see more of it.

"The second half was not at that high level as the first 45 minutes," he said. "... Maybe we lost more balls than in the first half. First half we won every battle and the second half most of the battles for Bournemouth and that was the difference."

When things have been good, Pelle has been a key part with six goals in his last nine matches across all competitions, and he scored twice against Sunderland in an 8-0 thrashing at St. Mary's on Oct. 18, 2014, as part of last season's dream start.

"I think (Pelle) plays a vital role," Davis said. "I think everybody knows we like to try and play football, but he also gives us that outlet if we want to go a little bit more direct and he can cause teams a lot of problems. We can play off him and he's probably one of the best in the league in terms of doing that, so he's been magnificent for us."

Aside from last year's thrashing, it's been the Black Cats with the edge head-to-head, going 4-3-1 in all competitions dating to 2012. That includes a 2-1 victory in the corresponding fixture at the Stadium of Light on May 2 with Jordi Gomez converting twice from the penalty spot as Sadio Mane scored for the Saints.

After earning their first win of the season home against Newcastle United on Oct. 25, Sunderland (1-3-7) returned to familiar form in Sunday's 6-2 loss at Everton, erasing any hope provided by the Wear-Tyne derby victory.

The Black Cats have at least started to finish some with five goals in two matches after managing two in their previous five, but that means little with their league-worst 25 conceded, tying them with Bournemouth for the worst goal differential at minus-12.

"The amount of chances we got on Sunday was the most I have ever had in a game since I moved to Sunderland," Steven Fletcher told the club's official website. "It's good in that aspect but we need to keep the door shut at the other end."

Fletcher has scored in three of his last four Premier League matches - a time frame that also includes four goals in two matches for Scotland during European Championship qualifying.

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