Photo Gallery: Norwich City’s TV stars see off Sunderland
PUBLISHED: 14:34 03 December 2012
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There was a time when it was thought the presence of live TV cameras at Carrow Road was some kind of jinx.
There was also a time when it was claimed the Canaries could not win a Premier League game on a Sunday – that one was fact, a sequence broken only on the final day of the last season.
And there was certainly a time, little more than two months ago, when the prospects for success in their second season back in the top flight were looking distinctly bleak.
But Chris Hughton’s team has begun to confound the critics and tear up lists of unfavourable statistics in a remarkable climb out of the danger zone.
Yesterday’s victory over Sunderland, their fourth league win in succession on home territory, has given Norwich parity in the table with Liverpool, their destroyers on the same ground nine weeks ago.
Anyone witnessing that crushing defeat who suggested City would be seven points clear of the bottom three by the first weekend of December might have been dismissed as a fantasist, yet they are there, and there on merit.
And if there were times in the second half against Sunderland yesterday when they enjoyed their share of good fortune – these were Black Cats crossing their path, after all – then one should not overlook the fact that City were simply excellent in the opening period and would have well merited a two-goal advantage at the break but for the Craig Gardner goal that changed the complexion of the contest.
As it was, first-half goals from Sébastien Bassong and Anthony Pilkington were enough to secure another three points, Bassong scoring for the second weekend in a row and Pilkington for the second home match in succession, with even more panache than his winner against Manchester United a fortnight earlier.
After the ever-dangerous Gardner reduced the arrears in the final minute of the first half, the second half was at times uncomfortable, nail-biting viewing for home fans, and for those of a yellow and green persuasion watching on the small or big screen.
But City held on – and are now becoming TV stars, their five “live” games this season having brought three wins and two draws.
It took them just eight minutes to go ahead, scoring first for the fourth home game in a row. Steven Whittaker was tripped by full-back Danny Rose and as Robert Snodgrass floated the free-kick in from the right, Bradley Johnson headed on and a deflection off Carlos Cuellar’s arm fell to Bassong, who hooked the ball in from almost on the line.
It was yet another set-piece goal, City’s fifth in seven league games, and they proceeded to dominated the opening half-hour.
Sunderland flickered briefly when Rose tested goalkeeper Mark Bunn from a Sebastien Larsson corner, and Matthew Kilgallon headed over from an Adam Johnson free-kick.
But City reasserted their authority after 37 minutes. An impressively long string of passes ended with Bradley Johnson’s through-ball giving Pilkington a battle with Cuellar, but he did brilliantly to weave it on to his right foot and beat ’keeper Simon Mignolet with an emphatic finish.
However, Gardner threw Sunderland a lifeline in the final minute of the half when, after excellent work by Adam Johnson, he struck a swerving left-footer just inside Bunn’s left-hand post from 25 yards.
It was the signal for the rather lethargic Black Cats to come out more like tigers in the second period, when Connor Wickham replaced the injured and ineffective Steven Fletcher.
Pilkington brought Mignolet into action with another 25-yard drive, but the final half-hour belonged to Sunderland.
They were inches from levelling when Bunn tipped Gardner’s powerful free-kick on to the post and Kilgallon fired the rebound over the top with the goal at his mercy. Then a corner cleared as far as Gardner almost provided the equaliser, the midfielder’s goalbound effort being cleared by Javier Garrido, a yard in front of the line.
Stephane Sessegnon looked certain to level on 64 minutes when Rose’s pass put him through against Bunn, but the ’keeper did splendidly to not only save but hold on to the ball. The hobbling Bassong then made a superb clearance from Rose’s cross when he looked to set up Wickham.
Sunderland had the ball in the net on 77 minutes when Rose struck a superb volley that Bunn could only parry, Wickham knocking in the rebound, but flagged offside.
And in the last of four minutes of stoppage time, Bunn gratefully held on to yet another free-kick from Gardner as Sunderland’s last chance went begging.