James Beattie grabbed his 16th Premiership goal of the season in the 50th minute, beating the offside trap and rounding goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen before slipping the ball into the empty net.
Benali scrambled the ball behind for a corner but most of the lowest Premiership crowd at the Stadium of Light this season had long gone such was their frustration and increasing acceptance of relegation.
Southampton climbed back into the top six but manager Gordon Strachan had sympathy for his opposite number Howard Wilkinson who faces a mammoth task to stem the tide.
"I was delighted with the performance,'' said Strachan.
"We knew when we came here it wasn't going to be a classic because of the wind and the pitch.
"I know how Howard feels because we have been there. We can relax and I think that was the difference.
"There weren't many chances but we had a spell towards the end of the first half when we could have scored.''
Beattie fired over the bar immediately after the break but the in-form striker kept his cool shortly afterwards to leave Sunderland without a win in the last seven Premiership matches.
Wilkinson apologised to the fans for a performance which he agreed was simply not acceptable.
He said: "The fans deserve more. They have committed themselves to the football club over the years.
"They have paid money and what we gave them was not acceptable. We are running out of games. I am not questioning the players' commitment but it's not acceptable.''