Chris Hughton has become the tinker man recently and I’m now certain that he must be keeping an eye on Vital Norwich for his team selection.
In the week, I wrote an article entitled ‘A team to beat Sunderland’ and while I will admit CH didn’t follow my instructions 100% he did crucially drop Bradley Johnson and play Johnny Howson next to Alext Tettey – a move that was hugely important to City’s control of the midfield against The Black Cats.
Wes Hoolahan was restored to the starting eleven, as were Martin and Bassong with in-form Elmander(!) just behind RvW.
Right from the off City were up for it in this vitally important game (you know we’re in a spot of trouble when Archant stick a clap banner on your seat). A loss here and our season would be in a tail spin, but as ever with ‘must win’ games, the lads produced a response from a previous poor performance and put a shift in.
The contrast between last week at Southampton and here was stark. City were first to every ball, tackle and second ball. Sunderland looked shell shocked as they were forced back into their own half by a succession of driving attacks. Martin Olsson roamed forwards at will putting cross after cross into Vito Mannone’s box.
It was only a matter of time before City scored after Hoolahan and Howson had tested Mannone and it was another Olsson cross that sparked it off.
The cross wasn’t brilliantly hit but did confuse Mannone and Wes Brown was forced to hack the ball off the line. It went straight to Elmander who had a tight shooting angle but looked up and played in the on rushing Snodgrass who fired past Mannone to give City a deserved lead on 20 minutes.
After that, Sunderland almost collapsed as they were run ragged by Hoolahan, Howson, Snodgrass and Olsson. Elmander played with a verve and energy that helped dominate the visitor’s defence, while chasing and harrassing them at every opportunity.
Hoolahan was excellent again and after winning a ball on the left by block tackling Alonso, he charged forward. Looking up, RvW was in the box and pointing where he wanted it. Wes duly obliged and it looked a certain goal. But as is his way, Ricky failed to connect and it stayed one nil.
Wes looked at him, puffed his cheeks and shrugged his shoulders ‘What more do you want?’ the body language said.
So often this season, on those occasions that we have dominated, we have not been able to score but this time was different as we got the crucial second goal via a goal of the season contender from Alex Tettey.
A headed clearance from Brown went towards Tettey, some 30 yards from goal. It sat up nicely and the Norwegian didn’t need the encouragement of the man behind me to shoot. ‘Have a go’ came the shout as the ball fell to Alex’s right foot.
And have a go he did. He will never hit a better shot than this one. 30 yards and measured at 65mph, the ball flew past the despairing Mannone, who’s dive was only an after thought as it was already past him and bulging the onion bag.
The City players engulfed Tettey and gave him the old ‘shoe shine’ celebration. Simply brilliant technique and a goal worthy of winning any game.
By now, with his team in danger of complete collapse, Gus Poyet made two changes on 40 minutes. With Cattermole and Larsson replacing Ki and Colback. Cattermole was booked within moments for mouthing off at Phil Dowd – that boy never learns and as a late shot by Borini was well held by Ruddy, that was the first half.
Probably the best half of football that City have produced this season.
Sunderland weren’t in the dressing room long (about 7 minutes) before coming out again and waiting on the pitch. You can only imagine the fury from Poyet as he had seen his side literally second to everything. They were so early that Lee Cattermole was almost run over during the half time Zorb race!
When City did come out, they faced a slightly tougher Sunderland side who had obviously been galvanised by Poyet during their short exchange of words.
But it did not matter as they were still unable to really threaten a home team that created further chances to extend their lead.
Yet again, RvW had a golden opportunity to score, from a header this time, but got it all wrong as he headed it downwards. The ball bounced up and forced Mannone to tip it over but really he should’ve buried it. I’m taking solace in Alan Shearer’s words (about Papiss Cisse) that he’d be more concerned if he wasn’t getting chances, rather than just missing them.
Hoolahan and then late on, Redmond also had chances well saved by Mannone while at the other end Ruddy saved brilliantly from Wes Brown at a corner, but there were no more goals and that’s how it finished. There was just time for Alonso who had been booed for diving earlier to receive a second yellow for handball in injury time, much to the home crowd’s delight.
A massive win with just seven games remaining and Sunderland having three in hand on us. This win put us seven points ahead of them and although they have those extra games, they still have to win them. They will play six of the top seven teams before the end of the season including a trip to Anfield on Tuesday night.
The importance of giving Alex Tettey a passing partner in midfield was all important here and paid dividends (Howson was named man of the match) as City put Sunderland to the sword.
Speaking of Sunderland, they were very, very poor. They never looked like a goal threat and were dominated throughout the first half and in parts of the second. Up front, they relied on hap hazard balls to Jozy Altidore who’s agent must be laughing his socks off. How he managed to convince Di Canio that his boy was a Premier League striker is the eighth wonder of the world.
If The Black Cats come up against many more teams with Norwich City’s level of commitment (at least that shown yesterday) then they will be relegated. A lot of the media have raved about Gus Poyet’s appointment being done so early in the season to gave Sunderland a chance but in reality, has he really done that well?
They reached a cup final (and lost) and now have a fixture pile up and it’s not like the team are really showing some fight for him, is it?
At the end of the game, the Sunderland players went over to applaud the visiting fans (who had been mostly quiet throughout) and received plenty of abuse. There was a lot of shouting and shaking of fists and plenty of hand signals. Reminiscent of that last game that Di Canio was in charge for and when he went over to exchange shoulder shrugs with them.
By contrast, all was well with the Norwich team and supporters, who cheered their players off the pitch with rapturous applause. Not one of them had a bad game. Bassong had a few ‘moments’ when he unnecessarily dawdled on the ball, but other than that everyone was on it. Seb would be well advised to follow Yobo’s ‘if in doubt, see it out’ school of defending.
I suppose you could level criticism at RvW, as I did earlier for missing two great chances but Alex Tettey’s wonder strike will erase that from the memory of most. Even Elmander, despite not scoring received a standing ovation as he made way for Johnson late on, an ovation he deserved after a great effort and another assist.
Olsson was excellent going forward as Hughton gave Hoolahan a nominal left sided position that was pretty much a free role to terrorise the visitors as he saw fit. It all worked very well, although perhaps against tougher opposition away from home we’d need more solidity on the left.
Another big win at a vital time, well done CH. Don’t forget Chris, tune in next week for my thoughts on what you should do away at Swansea.