Gus Poyet sent Sunderland back out so early after half-time that Lee Cattermole came within a whisker of being flattened by an inflatable plastic wheel. The crowd chortled but the midfielder did not smile. Embarrassing and undignified as that would have been, what had gone on during the first 45 minutes was far worse for the Black Cats.
Put simply, Sunderland were dire. While the absence of creativity might have been understandable, the lack of fight was unforgivable – no doubt the Uruguayan told them as much, both during half-time and at greater length after the match. By the time he appeared to fulfil his media duties he had calmed down sufficiently to describe the performance, with a certain dry humour, as “unexpected”.
Almost as unexpected, in the context of the game, as Norwich’s second goal, a searing 30-yard volley by Alex Tettey. “He won’t score another like that, I’ll put money on it,” said Poyet. “Not that we deserved anything from the game.”
Norwich started brightly, but hardly irresistibly, and the game had begun to deteriorate into the nervous, mistake-laden mess when the home team went ahead. Startled by the fact Martin Olsson’s low cross had been allowed to travel across the six yard line before arriving at his feet, Sunderland centre-half Wes Brown’s attempted clearance went straight to Johan Elmander, who looked up and cut the ball back to the edge of the penalty area for Robert Snodgrass to steer calmly inside Vito Mannone’s right-hand post.
The goal changed the game to an extraordinary degree, in that Norwich began to play with verve and confidence, and Sunderland, well, very nearly gave up. The goal-shy Ricky van Wolfswinkel (one goal in 20 Premier League appearances since being bought for £8.5m) somehow missed the ball completely when all he had to do was get a touch on Wes Hoolahan’s low cross, and Jonny Howson nearly succeeded in lobbing the back-pedalling Mannone from 45 yards.
It would have been a spectacular effort, and perhaps it inspired Tettey when Hoolahan’s cross was headed towards him as he stood some 30 yards from goal shortly after the half hour. The midfielder did not hesitate, putting his foot through the ball to such effect that Mannone’s dive was no more than a gesture as the volley flew past him into the far corner of his goal.
Five minutes before half-time Poyet made a double substitution, Lee Cattermole and Sebastian Larsson replacing the ineffectual Ki Sung-Yueng and Jack Colback, but while he saw the effort levels rise, the lack of creativity remained total.
Indeed, had Van Wolfswinkel not mistimed a simple close-range header from a Snodgrass cross two minutes after the break, allowing Mannone to make a save, Norwich might have scored a hatful.
As it was Cattermole’s work-rate and readiness to make a tackle ensured sufficient improvement to restrict the damage, though the fact Poyet took off Adam Johnson with fully 20 minutes remaining demonstrated his lack of faith in his side’s ability to salvage a point. Marcos Alonso’s sending-off for a second yellow card in added time completed their misery.
“It was a big game and we were excellent from start to finish,” said the Norwich manager Chris Hughton, who after a long series of games before which his imminent dismissal has been confidently predicted, was entitled to sit back with a smile.
“We’ve actually had better performances, but you have to score the goals at the right time, and we did. Everybody at the club enjoyed Tettey’s goal, because it couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke, but it was equally important to maintain our level of performance in the second half, and we did that. With results elsewhere, it’s been a good day for us.”
Norwich (4-4-1-1): Ruddy; Martin, Yobo, Bassong, Olsson; Snodgrass, Howson, Tettey, Hoolahan (Redmond, 89); van Wolfswinkel (Hooper, 71); Elmander (Johnson, 87).
Sunderland (4-5-1): Mannone; Bardsley, O’Shea, Brown, Alonso; Bridcutt, Colback (Larsson, 40), Ki (Cattermole, 40), Johnson (Scocco, 71), Borini; Altidore.
Referee: Phil Dowd.
Man of the match: Snodgrass (Norwich)
Match rating: 6/10
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