Canaries battle against the odds for Sunderland draw

Hoolahan opens scoring for Norwich before being called ashore after Bunn’s red card

Sunderland 1 - 1 Norwich City

English Premier League

Norwich City's Wes Hoolahan celebrates his goal against Sunderland. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.

Date: 17 March, 2013

Venue: Stadium of Light

Sun, Mar 17, 2013, 16:41

   

Despite playing most of the match with ten men following Mark Bunn's controversial sending off, a superbly well organised Norwich City clung on to collect a richly deserved point.

In contrast, a desperately underwhelming Sunderland have now gone seven games without a win and will need to improve appreciably if an end of season relegation skirmish is to be avoided. Martin O'Neill will understand the significance of the boos which greeted the final whistle.

Their slide back towards relegation waters has coincided with some distinctly unflattering critiques. "Premier League wallpaper," was the way one commentator described O'Neill's side. In the words of another, watching the Wearside team had become "a chore."

Yet with an awkward run of fixtures against Manchester United, Chelsea, Newcastle and Everton impending, the situation seemed in peril of switching from mind numbing to nervy for Sunderland fans.

With victory against Norwich deemed imperative O'Neill's squad cancelled a planned squad jolly to Cheltenham last week. Considering his players had taken just two points from the previous possible 18 and a recent warm weather training trip to Dubai had exerted no discernible positive effect, this seemed sensible.

Sunderland's defence proved rather less prudent when Kei Kamara met a 26th minute corner with his head. Although the ball looked goalbound, Wes Hoolahan made sure of it courtesy of a second header, dispatched from around two yards out.

Shortly afterwards though fortune began frowning on Chris Hughton's side. First Bunn dashed off his line to block Danny Graham's path to goal and clear a bouncing ball only for it to rise up awkwardly and strike his elbow. Much to Bunn's fury, the referee, Chris Foy, immediately sent the visiting goalkeeper off for handling outside the area. Maintaining – with some justification – that the contact had been totally inadvertent and Bunn threw his gloves away in disgust as he trudged towards the tunnel.

Hoolahan was promptly withdrawn, allowing Lee Camp to replace Bunn in goal and it was not long before the Premier League debutant was disconsolately picking the ball out of the back of his net.

A long punt into the area seemed to hit Sébastien Bassong on the arm, quite possibly accidentally. Against an increasingly outraged soundtrack from Norwich players, Foy consulted with his assistant referee and pointed to the penalty spot. Craig Gardner stepped forward to send Camp the wrong way, lifting his kick into the top corner.

With Sunderland now firmly in the ascendant Camp saved brilliantly from Sebastian Larsson to keep the score level. As O'Neill's players poured forward, Camp could not afford to let his concentration waver for a moment but, generally, Bassong and Michael Turner, formerly of Sunderland, blocked, cleared and intercepted valiantly providing a formidable central defensive barrier.

It helped that the home side repeatedly let themselves down with poor final balls but Hughton's well organised players began mustering a sporadic threat on the counter-attack.

Indeed Norwich might have had a penalty had Foy spotted a potential handball from Danny Rose in the area. Grant Holt, who had replaced Kamara, should really have given them the lead when clean through on the break but the striker's abysmal first touch instead allowed Simon Mignolet to gather safely.

As a winner stubbornly refused to materialise and the Stadium of Light grew edgily discontented, O'Neill withdrew the, once again, disappointing Danny Graham and Adam Johnson with James McClean and Connor Wickham put on in their places.

Although the lively Stéphane Sessègnon shot narrowly wide Sunderland rarely looked like capitalising as ten man Norwich inevitably tired.

Guardian Service