Sunderland 0 Norwich City 1
Victory at last for Norwich under Gary Megson, 12 matches into a managerial spell now in its second phase at Carrow Road
after he returned to the club following a barren 11-game run.
A powerful 12th-minute strike by Ashley Ward, who seized upon an error by the centre-back Andy Melville, condemned Sunderland to their first home defeat since the opening day of the season.
In a dour game that their manager, Peter Reid, had labelled "our most important of the season," Sunderland were short of passion. Rusty, perhaps, in what was their first League outing since before Christmas, but unrecognisable from the side which had drawn at Old Trafford eight days earlier.
Not that the Manchester United manager, Alex Ferguson, eyeing up the FA Cup opposition before tomorrow's third-round replay, would have drawn comfort from an uninspired home performance.
Their plans were disrupted inside the first two minutes, David Kelly hobbling off with a twisted ankle to be replaced by Martin Smith, but the Wearsiders still enjoyed the better of the early exchanges before Norwich snatched a surprise lead. Melville was ambushed on the edge of the box as the ball became trapped between his boots, and Ward advanced to beat Alec Chamberlain.
Thereafter Norwich sat deep, John Polston and Spencer Prior comfortably seeing off a series of hopeful crosses while Jan Molby rarely wasted a ball. From one of his passes, midway through the second half, Robert Fleck should have added a second, but Sunderland lacked the inspiration and the killer instinct to profit from Chamberlain's save.
"Now we've got a win under our belts we can concentrate on what is, effectively, a 20-game league," said Megson, whose side leapfrogged Sunderland to move into sixth place in an increasingly frantic First Division promotion race.
Reid, conceding his side "weren't at our best," will this week renew his search for a back-up goalkeeper, having failed to agree a deal with Manchester City over Tony Coton.
Goal: Ward (12) 0-1.
Sunderland: (4 4 2) Chamberlain; Kubicki (Howey, 81), Melville, Ord, M Scott; Kelly (Smith, 2), Bracewell, Agnew, Michael Gray; P Gray, Russell. Substitute not used: Hall.
Norwich City (4 4 2) Gunn; Bradshaw, Polston, Prior, Bowen; Eadie, Adams, Molby, O'Neill (Ullathorne 56); Ward, Fleck (K Scott 76). Substitute not used: Newman.
Bookings: Sunderland: Melville. Norwich: Eadie, O'Neill.
Referee: G Cain (Liverpool).
Man of the match: Eadie.