Norwich City 1, Sunderland 0
JONATHAN REDHEAD One shot on target from Robert Earnshaw was enough for Norwich City to earn all three points against Sunderland at Carrow Road this afternoon. Man of the match Dion Dublin and central defensive partner Jason Shackell were superb at the heart of the City defence as the home side weathered the storm to leave Roy Keane’s men pointless.
One shot on target was enough for Norwich City to earn all three points against Sunderland at Carrow Road this afternoon.
Robert Earnshaw's excellently taken goal after 51 minutes was the difference against the visitors who had more possession and deserved something from the game.
But man of the match Dion Dublin and central defensive partner Jason Shackell were superb at the heart of the City defence as the home side weathered the storm to leave Roy Keane's men pointless.
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City boss Peter Grant made several changes to the side which drew 1-1 at home to Colchester in midweek.
In came Dion Dublin at centre-back while Paul McVeigh returned from suspension to play on the right of a three-man frontline including Robert Earnshaw and Darren Huckerby. They replaced Gary Doherty who missed out through injury and teenager Robert Eagle who was on the bench.
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For Sunderland, manager Roy Keane picked former Republic of Ireland international team mates Graham Kavanagh and David Connolly in a 4-4-2 formation.
The first chance of the game fell to Sunderland after just two minutes as Dickson Etuhu's poor clearance dropped to Connolly. The former Wigan man turned onto his left foot and fired low left-footed from 10-yards but Paul Gallacher pulled off a fine save to deny him.
Eight minutes in and Huckerby earned Norwich's first corner after a fine 50-yard run sees him beat three men before his shot is deflected wide. However, the City flag kick comes to nothing.
The visitors earn another opportunity on 11 minutes as striker Chris Brown spins off Jason Shackell and gets to the ball ahead of Gallacher but toe pokes wide.
A superb last ditch tackle from Sunderland Stephen Caldwell prevents Earnshaw latching onto Carl Robinson's through ball as the game goes from end to end.
A quarter of an hour in and the visitors go close to opening the scoring as Tobias Hysen's free-kick curls over the wall and on to the top of the net from 20-yards out.
The bright open start to the game petered out and the match descended into a battle in the middle third of the pitch.
But half an hour in Sunderland sprang into life. Liam Lawrence's deep cross from the right was headed down to Hysen by Connolly. The Swedish international hit a low left foot shot from the edge of the box which Gallacher did well to save.
After 32 minutes, Caldwell became the first name in referee Mike Riley's notebook after bringing down Huckerby on the halfway line. The decision sparked the Sunderland bench into life and in particular an irate Roy Keane.
Sunderland went close to the opening goal again on 37 minutes as Lawrence cut in from the right and fired left footed from the edge of the box but Gallacher did well to grasp the curling ball at the foot of his right hand post.
City struggled to create anything in Sunderland's half and regularly gave the ball away as the quality of the game deteriorated. Earnshaw continued to plough a lonely furrow up front and was trying to feed on scraps. Meanwhile Dean Whitehead, in an accustomed full back role, continued to police Huckerby well as the home side were booed off at the end of a very poor first half where they failed to register a single shot on target, or indeed, create a single half chance.
At half-time City boss Peter Grant made a tactical switch and as the second period began, McVeigh dropped into the centre just behind Earnshaw, with Robinson moved to wide right and Huckerby wide left in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
And out of the blue, City took the lead on 51 minutes with a superb goal. On the counterattack after a period of Sunderland pressure, Huckerby fed the ball to McVeigh in the middle of the park. He then sent Earnshaw clean through with a delightful pass and the Welshman needed no second invitation and comprehensively beat goalkeeper Darren Ward with a right-foot shot into the far corner from 15-yards for his 10th goal of the season. It was in fact Norwich's first effort on target.
An air of tension around Carrow Road was immediately lifted as City began to play decent football for the first time without creating any more goal scoring opportunities.
On 64 minutes Sunderland's increasing frustration was evident as Kavanagh became the second Black Cat to be booked after kicking the ball at a prone Huckerby after a free-kick was awarded.
Roy Keane made his first change minutes later as big front man Darryl Murphy came on for Hysen.
The visitors carved open their first chance to equalise on 69 minutes as Lawrence found space on the edge of the box but his weak lob dropped comfortably into Gallacher's arms.
The visitors then made another change on 71 minutes as Kavanagh came off and Grant Leadbitter came on.
The Sunderland bench were left incensed twice in a minute after two penalty appeals were turned down. First Dublin tangled with Brown and moments later there were appeals for handball inside the City box, however, both decisions were marginal and went in City's favour.
On 74 minutes City made their first change as McVeigh was replaced by Andy Hughes.
On 76 minutes Brown had Sunderland's best chance but he headed inches wide from six-yards following Lawrence's chipped cross. It was now backs to the wall for City as Dublin and Safri both made tremendous blocks.
Sunderland made their last change Elliott came on for Connolly.
Paul Gallacher became the first City man to be booked on 82 minutes after delaying a goal kick as Jurgen Colin lay injured with cramp. The full-back was then substituted moments later for teenager Eagle, with Huckerby switching to the right.
The home side was starting to feel the pressure but Dublin and Shackell were defending magnificently from a whole host of good Sunderland crosses.
At the other end, Huckerby was booked for time wasting at a throw in as City faced five minutes of injury time.
However, they managed to hold on to earn three valuable, if possibly undeserved, points.