The Tuckster reports on a testing draw at the Stadium of Light in the face of some woeful officiating…
When the team sheets were announced prior to the game, the major talking point, as far as City were concerned was the omission of our Captain, Grant Holt in favour of new cult hero Kei Kamara as the lone striker.
The injured Anthony Pilkington was replaced by Elliot Bennett in the other change to last week`s draw with Southampton.
Unusually, but probably to accommodate Bennett a little better, Snodgrass played on the left wing and Bennett patrolled the right flank. Sunderland by contrast, went 4-4-2 with Fletcher and Graham up front.
Norwich started the game very brightly and the first 10 minutes were a flurry of attacks and corners without testing Mignolet too much.
After that, the home side came into it a little more before the first blow was struck after another Norwich corner on 26 minutes.
The biggest man in our side, and by his own admission, possessor of a “secret ability to jump” was left unmarked in the box.
He headed the ball towards goal from 8 yards with the keeper beaten. It was going in anyway but Wes Hoolahan made sure by nodding the ball in with his head from about a yard out. It was fully deserved on the balance of play but Hoolahan would only play for another four minutes.
A long ball was punted forward towards Danny Graham and there seemed to be little threat as Michael Turner rose to meet it. He tried to head the ball back to Mark Bunn but for whatever reason he was woefully short.
Turner was about 25 yards from his own goal and seeing that the header was going to be short, Bunn came racing out of his area. As the ball dropped and Graham sensed a chance, Bunn jumped with Graham in close attendance. He was out of his area and he cleared the ball after seeming to chest it down first.
However, referee Chris Foy blew his whistle for a foul – all City fans knew what that meant and Foy flashed a red card in the direction of Mark Bunn.
Bunn was enraged and held back by Seb Bassong before storming off and throwing his gloves away. Replays showed that although his arms were out front the ball hit his chest before bouncing under his arm pit. Deliberate handball? Not a chance.
The unlucky Hoolahan was substituted to allow Lee Camp to make his City and Premier League debut. His first action was to watch Gardner`s free kick sail over his bar but he would be picking the ball out of the net just 9 minutes later.
A seemingly harmless through ball was chested by Bassong onto his left forearm and the linesman flagged for a penalty. Much protesting did nothing to change the officials mind and Snodgrass picked up his 5th yellow card of the season – I assume he`ll now miss the Wigan game, along with Bunn.
Gardner smashed the penalty high into the top left hand corner and the score was level, against the run of play.
Chris Hughton will have been glad of the chance to get his players in at half time to set out his plan for a solid second half but the situation looked bleak.
The start of the second half saw a predicted blitz from the home side but without ever really troubling Lee Camp. The City substitute keeper had to tip over a fierce Fletcher drive and watched as a Sessegnon shot was saved and rebounded to Graham who fluffed the chance wide.
The Canaries then rolled up their sleeves and dug in but not just defensively. Kamara was always a willing outlet up top and Johnson and Howson did well in the centre to break up play and create space for Bennett and Snodgrass.
The City back four didn`t drop deep but instead squeezed forward and pushed Sunderland`s options back as the away side played with two solid banks of four.
Just after the hour mark, Kamara was replaced by Holt – I`m assuming that he`d run out of steam a little and fresh energy was needed. It was a change that was always going to happen and almost reaped a reward when the City striker was sent away after shrugging off Titus Bramble (Shambles). He had a heavy touch though that allowed Mignolet to get to the ball and Holt`s follow through challenge earned him a yellow card.
Just to emphasise that City had been harshly dealt with by the officials in this match, on 70 minutes, a Russell Martin cross was handled by Danny Rose and the ref blew for a foul. Typically, it was right in front of the same linesman that spotted Bassong`s indiscretion in the first half. This time though the lino failed to spot that Rose was at least two yards inside his own penalty area – it was a stone wall penalty.
The ref allowed Snodgrass to place the ball right on the edge of the area and the chance was wasted – The fact that the lino couldn`t see that Rose was inside the area beggars belief. Just what is it that he`s looking at? It was scandalous not to spot this.
City continued to ask the more attacking questions and could`ve won it when substitute Steven Whittaker, on for Snodgrass, ghosted to the bye line and fired a low cross across the front of goal. Holt didn`t gamble and another chance was lost.
Sunderland were pretty poor and despite City playing with ten men for about an hour, they couldn`t trouble us other than with a penalty kick.
Adam Jonson was wasteful in possession as he put a succession of crosses either out of play or he over hit them in the first half. Eventually he was replaced by James McLean who was equally ineffective.
Danny Graham looked a shadow of the player who regularly used to trouble us when he was at Watford and then Swansea. Sessegnon couldn`t get going today and Vaughan seemed to specialise in sideways passing. If I was a fan of the Black Cats, I would be worried, what with upcoming fixtures against Man Utd, Chelsea, Newcastle and Everton.
In the circumstances, this was an excellent point. We were comfortable before and just after we scored and only then conceded after a soft(ish) penalty. The fact that our players stubbornly refused to lay down was to their credit.
Had the lino had his specs on then we could`ve won this game with a penalty of our own. Credit must also be due to the manager and his coaches who will have provided the words of instruction and instilled the necessary belief and tactics in the team at half time.
I would`ve taken a point before the start of play and any away point is a good point. The fact that it was earned in these testing circumstances makes it even more important. It now looks like we are limping towards the finish line and with our next game away at Wigan, we have a chance to virtually get over that line.
Once again, this is a game we must not lose and I would settle for a point. The fact Wigan have a game in hand on us can be negated with a win at the DW.
Come on lads, put us out of our misery and let`s go for it.