Southampton assistant manager Jesus Perez defends decision to field much-changed side at Sunderland

Southampton assistant boss Jesus Perez has claimed Mauricio Pochettino picked the strongest team possible in this afternoon's 1-0 FA Cup defeat to Sunderland.

Craig Gardner scored the only goal of the game at the Stadium of Light to ensure the visitors fell at the fifth round stage.

Saints' boss Pochettino made six changes for the clash, with regulars Jose Fonte, Jay Rodriguez and Morgan Schneiderlin among those to miss out.

However, Perez has defended the selection. He told BT Sport: "We pick our strongest team where we can. We decided to play with the best 11 after the game at Hull during the week.

"Our team is strong and all the players are available to play. We picked the strongest team.

"There are players that needed a couple of days to recover and some players with illness or just a lack of freshness.

"We are a little bit sad to lose this opportunity to go forward in the FA Cup but nothing to say about our players."

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