Norwich City’s super start ensures survival through second half scares

Norwich City beat Sunderland 2-1 at Carrow Road in front of the Sky TV cameras on Sunday. It was a game of two halves.

Norwich were 2-0 up and cruising with 42 minutes played. Sunderland grabbed a goal back immediately prior to half-time, and the City defence had many an anxious moment in the second half, but held on to win 2-1.

On Wednesday City had picked up a useful away point at Southampton, thanks to a Snodgrass strike, so all in all this was a productive week for the Canaries. Two games yielded four points and left them in 12th place in the Premier League table with a total haul of 19 points so far. Some optimistic pundits would argue that we are already halfway to confirming our Premier League status for next season.

For the visit of Sunderland, City retained the team which had secured the hard won point at St Mary’s. Mark Bunn retained his place in goal following the news that Ruddy would be out for up to three months following a serious thigh injury and would be having an operation this week. Ryan Bennett continued in the centre of defence in the absence of Turner, also injured.

Roared on by an expectant crowd, tingling with anticipation of a fourth consecutive home win, the Canaries exuded confidence, and took the lead as early as the eighth minute. Snodgrass’ free kick was headed on by Johnson, inadvertently helped on its way by the arm of Black Cats’ defender Cuellar, and Bassong on the line scored his second goal in two games. The second goal came after 37 minutes. After a long spell of Norwich possession (some fans claim to have counted 24 touches) Pilkington surged forward after Johnson’s pass, beat Cuellar, and hit a low shot passed the keeper.

City were very much on top and their fans sat back in expectation of a goal feast, but their dreams were rudely shattered after 44 minutes when Gardner beat Bunn with a shot that the keeper managed to get his fingertips to but not stop.

Former Ipswich player Connor Wickham replaced Fletcher in the second half and received a less than warm welcome from the home fans. Suddenly Sunderland were asking all the questions. Bennett cut out Sessegnon’s cross and Bassong blocked a shot from Cuellar. Gardner hit the post with a free kick and from the rebound Kilgallon somehow contrived to shoot over the bar with the empty goal seemingly at his mercy. Bunn saved bravely from Sessegnon. Garrido cleared off the line. Wickham did put the ball in the net when Bunn could only parry Rose’s volley but the groans in the Barclay turned to howls of derision when the linesman flagged for offside against the former Ipswich favourite. At the other end Pilkington’s drive was saved by the keeper, and Bassong headed wide from Snodgrass’ free kick. Soon afterwards Elliot Bennett replaced Snodgrass. City were hanging in and hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Howson replaced Hoolahan with two minutes left. City fans breathed a sigh of relief when Bunn held Gardner’s free kick at the death, and the referee finally blew the whistle after five minutes of injury time. My girlfriend from Kyrgystan was attending her first City game and indeed her first football match in the UK. She was impressed with the ground, the game, and my friend Robert’s birthday lunch in the Gunn Club, where she also met man of the match Mark Bunn after the game. “Is it always as good as this?” she asked. “Sometimes” I answered,” but not usually this cold.”

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So despite all of Sunderland’s second half pressure the Canaries recorded their fourth consecutive home win, extended their unbeaten run to eight Premier League games and nine in all competitions. The players looked shattered after three hard games in one week. At least they can now have a few days break before the long trip to Swansea next Saturday. After that the focus will shift to the Capitol One Cup showdown with Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa side on Tuesday.

Before the Sunderland game City were drawn away in the third round of the FA Cup. They will face the Championship’s bottom side Peterborough United at London Road on January 5. Like the Villa game that will generate much interest, and in this case local pride is at stake too. Now if City can manage to get another 19 points in the second half of the season and get to two Wembley Cup Finals…..Maybe I should put those in my letter to Santa Claus?