Writer: The Tuckster
Date:Sunday December 22 2013
In terms of importance, this game was much more important to one side than the other.
All week, Sunderland have been making noises that they need to beat the teams that are around them and they consider City to be one of those. This culminated on Thursday with manager, Gus Poyet saying that there could be 'no excuses' if his side didn't beat Norwich and that this game would be the kick start for their season.
As it turned out, it was nowhere near what Gus demanded and hoped for.
Team news ahead of kick off was positive and negative for City with Robert Snodgrass returning to the side and Ricky van Wolfswinkel on the bench, this was tempered by the news that Johnny Howson had 'felt his back' in the week and Hughton was taking no chances with him.
What that did mean was a bit more natural balance to the side and Leroy Fer being able to resume a central role.
Norwich started brightly with some good possession and Hooper firing a ball across the face of goal but no-one could get on the end of it.
For all Sunderland's posturing in the run up, they were unable to produce much in the way of any quality. They looked poor from the outset and as they began to gain a foothold in terms of possession, City stayed resiliently strong and a threat on the counter.
Sunderland's best opportunities of the first half came when Jozy Altidore took much too long to get a shot off and the chance was deflected wide when he was well placed. Moments later, Phil Bardsley finally tested Ruddy with a low shot that was well, but easily saved.
City's best efforts came from Nathan Redmond, who forced a decent low save from Mannone and Gary Hooper who fired a great effort at goal from 25 yards that Mannone did well to push away.
The first half was basically, scrappy.
After the break, Borini fired straight at Ruddy and Fletcher (on for Altidore) did likewise, while at the other end, Gary Hooper should've scored when he peeled off at the back post and headed wide and RvW, on for Elmander was foiled by Mannone's legs when put through by Fer.
Not long after that, Ruddy had a rush of blood to the head and came racing out to the corner of the box,but Borini beat him to the ball and passed to the edge of the box with the City keeper in no-man's land. The ball fell to Ki Sung-Yeung who despite taking TWO touches could only lob the ball onto the roof of the empty net.
A let off perhaps but a glaring example of the trouble Sunderland are in and how bereft of quality they are.
The biggest drama of the day was saved for the end though as the ball bounced up and hit Bassong in the midriff in the City area - the home supporters bayed for a penalty despite it being nowehere near Seb's hand, and once again, the home fans spouted streams of vitriol at referee, Martin Atkinson, who had a decent game.
The stadium still hadn't recovered from that 'injustice' when in the 92nd minute of the game, Wes Brown gave Atkinson an easy decision to make. Brown had earlier got the home fans out of their seats when Ruddy came for a punch, missed and Brown headed against the post.
RvW chased a ball to the byeline, deep in the Sunderland half and had it under control as Brown steamed in. He 'tackled' Ricky in the scissors style and dumped him on the floor - it looked painful and my seven year old lad knows you can't 'tackle' like that.
Atkinson quickly produced a straight red card and Sunderland's day was complete. The point does nothing for them and is a good one for us.
To my mind, Sunderland are in very serious trouble. There is no way that Altidore is worth £6m of anyone's money - Poyet has inherited him from Di Canio's short but volcanic reign and he has failed to score in 40 of his last 42 league appearances.
Giaccherini, an £8m buy was hauled off in the 63rd minute and replaced by Adam Johnson, who used to play for England.
The Sunderland fans would be better off venting their spleen at the club's hierarchy rather than the referee because clearly, Sunderland can spend money but they can't spend it wisely.
Gus Poyet knows he is right in it. Afterwards he said 'We were so bad today. What you see is the quality we have. There is no more.'
By contrast, Norwich were good value for the point. Despite Hooper and RvW's missed chances, City have stabilised after the maulings in Manchester and Liverpool. We have won once and drawn twice since the Liverpool game and it's that kind of resilience that will keep you in the Premier League.
Chris Hughton thought a draw was a fair result and so did I. Any point away from home is a good one and this particular point was earned in the bear pit atmosphere of the Stadium of Light against a side fighting for their lives with fans trying to so the same.
Chris Hughton: 'We showed grit and determination but a draw was a fair result.
'I felt we were the team most likely to score. A clean sheet away from home is valuable and we need to maintain that going into the Christmas period.
'There's a fair bit of confidence in the team. We've been unlucky with injuries but we've got through that period with great spirit.
'Their handball shout for a penalty was never a handball and Wes Brown's challenge was reckless. The sending off was a correct decision.'
Robert Snodgrass: 'We're trying to kick on now. It's a good point.
'It was a tasty match but this is a good result. Wes Brown's was a crazy challenge. Ricky was going nowhere.'
Gus Poyet: 'I'm disappointed. I was expecting more from the team: I was expecting to win.
'Every time we win an important game - like the cup win (against Chelsea) - the next step is always down.
'We were very poor technically today. Playing extra-time on Tuesday is no excuse.
'I'm realistic. Time is running out (to stay up).'
Of course you can suggest that Sunderland have had some bad luck. They have conceded six own goals this season but Poyet won't argree that is bad luck and Wes Brown picked up their fifth red card this term but that's not bad luck either.
What they badly miss is quality - Paulo Di Canio was given the funds to bring in 15 players in the summer, some for big money and he's basically bought nothing of note - he might as well have given the money to a tramp, and least someone would've benefitted.
While City, on the other hand are now starting to look more resilient and seasoned and are taking to their task. Plenty of people moaned afterwards about Norwich not beating the bottom side in the league, but there is a lot more to it than that simplistic view.
This is the same side that beat Chelsea in the cup and lost 4-3 to them a couple of weeks ago in their bear pit of a ground.
But what yesterday's result will do is further sap their will to compete. They were unable to beat 'one of the team's around them' and this is good for us. They have games against other teams near them coming up, as do City, so the next fortnight could be crucial - for both of us.
Date:Sunday December 22 2013
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