Barnett 30, Morison 48 – Richardson 86
Norwich City continued their amazing climb through the leagues with a 2-1 victory over Sunderland which lifted the Canaries into 9th place in the Premier League.
Two years ago, Norwich were 14th in the third tier, under the fledgling management of Paul Lambert. The transformation of the club under the former Celtic skipper has been an amazing one.
Norwich sprung a surprise by retaining Steve Morrison up front, at the expense of club captain, Grant Holt. Last season’s diamond formation, which relied on the width being provided by the fullbacks, has been replaced by a traditional four man midfield. Wes Hoolahan retained his playmaking role, this time behind the lone striker, the aforementioned Morison.
Sunderland’s formation was a mirror image of their opponents. They also had four at the back, a defence built in Manchester with three former United players in John O’Shea, Wes Brown and Kieran Richardson alongside Titus Bramble. The key for Sunderland seemed to be in getting the ball to Seb Larsson on the left, to provide the bullets for Nicklas Bendtner, a combination who had worked well for Steve Bruce when he was manager at Birmingham City. Stephane Sessegnon took up the position in the hole, the creative link between the midfield and the Danish striker.
The early stages saw the home side understandably settle the quicker, and Morison carved out a chance for himself inside five minutes, his shot smothered by Simon Mignolet in the Black Cats goal.
Sunderland looked nervy at the back, with Bramble and Mignolet looking particularly shaky. Twice in the space of a minute, poor headers by Bramble back to his keeper caused consternation to the Sunderland fans. The first saw Hoolahan latch onto the ball but loft over the bar, the second caused panic to the Belgian goalkeeper who sliced behind for a corner.
Sunderland lacked the patience in the early stages to create any periods of pressure, wastefully knocking the balls forward towards Bendtner. The Mackems main problem was an inability to link the play to Bendtner, with Sessegnon an anonymous figure.
By the midpoint of the first-half the game had developed into a stalemate, with Sunderland happy to hold the ball, without ever looking for any penetration.
When Norwich did gain possession they looked to attack with pace and precision. On the half hour mark that quicker tempo unlocked the door, with a smart one-two getting Elliot Bennett in behind Larsson and his fired ball across the six yard box was tucked away by Leon Barnett.
The second-half started in similar vein, as another ball in behind Sunderland, this time down the left hand side and Tierney’s cross to the back post, was met by a thumping header from Morison, to give the Welshman his first goal for Norwich and his first in the to flight.
The two-goal deficit failed to spark the visitors into life, and it was not until a Richardson bolt form the blue five minutes from time, the full-back driving home a shot from the left hand corner of the area, that Sunderland sparked into life.
The goal, plus five minutes stoppage time, set up a nervy finish but Norwich hung on for a fully deserved victory.
Norwich (4-4-1-1): Ruddy; Naughton, Barnett, Martin, Tierney; Bennett (Crofts 84), Johnson, Fox, Pilkington (Vaughan 78); Hoolahan; Morison
Sunderland (4-4-1-1): Mignolet; O’Shea, Bramble, Brown, Richardson; Elmohamady, Gardner, Vaughan, Larsson (Ji 68); Sessegnon (Wickham 68); Bendtner
Did you know…The two sides play for a Friendship Cup over their two league meetings following the rapport struck up by the opposing fans at the 1985 League Cup Final.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Man Utd v Norwich
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Sunderland v West Brom