March 11 2014 Latest news:
Paddy Davitt, Norwich City Writer
Monday, December 23, 2013
The temptation to focus on the negative connotations from a goalless stalemate should be resisted given the underlying sense of two clubs moving in opposite directions.
"Norwich needed to offer further tangible proof they can leave the secure confines of Carrow Road and return with league points in their quest for upward mobility. Sunderland needed to breathe new life into a league campaign that necessitates an epic second act beyond Christmas to survive."
Norwich’s second consecutive clean sheet on the road in the Premier League restored another portion of self-belief among a squad and a support who have suffered some horrific blows away from Carrow Road. City carved out enough decent opportunities on Wearside to have matched that previous win at the Hawthorns, but Chris Hughton and his players are now in the midst of a genuine fertile period in sharp contrast to Sunderland’s struggles.
Gus Poyet named eight of the side who had swept past Chelsea four days earlier to reach the Capital One Cup semi-finals and the hosts were backed by a volatile crowd who berated referee Martin Atkinson with wearying regularity.
This was no drab affair. This was a raw, frenzied contest, particularly in the final quarter, fuelled by a desperation from the terraces to grasp what they perceived as a golden opportunity.
Sunderland’s sixth winless top flight game kept them marooned at the very bottom and listing dreadfully. Poyet’s side require five points simply to edge out of the bottom three - given their parlous goal difference - another four points just to draw level with Norwich. Those are huge deficits approaching the half-way mark of the Premier League season.
Hughton set Norwich up to be defensively resolute and efficient on the counter-attack in a repeat of the successful formula at West Brom and in Sebastien Bassong and Michael Turner he had the axis for an obdurate display that never quite demanded the same levels of resistance due to Sunderland’s lack of attacking menace. But there were still moments of tension as the volume reached a crescendo.
The bile directed towards Atkinson was in truth frustration at the Black Cats’ inability to make a significant dent in a City backline on what felt like a pivotal afternoon.
Norwich needed to offer further tangible proof they can leave the secure confines of Carrow Road and return with league points in their quest for upward mobility. Sunderland needed to breathe new life into a league campaign that necessitates an epic second act beyond Christmas to survive. The Canaries’ visit was clearly viewed as base camp; the first staging post in the hosts’ revival. Norwich will happily deal in draws away from home but that is not a currency which will keep the Black Cats out of the Football League and both Poyet and his disgruntled fans knew it at the final whistle. Atkinson was maligned for his refusal to award a penalty kick against Sebastien Bassong for a ball which clearly struck his lower chest and the red card for Wes Brown deep in stoppage time which robs them of an influential figure during this key period.
Brown’s scything lunge through Ricky van Wolfswinkel was a callous act that deserved retribution; a cheap shot borne out of frustration but with collateral damage to Sunderland’s festive prospects.
The Dutchman’s return after a lengthy lay-off in a second half cameo alongside Gary Hooper offered another positive dimension to the Canaries’ shift.
Injury has severely curtailed the union between two expensively purchased commodities who have plundered at a prolific rate at every stage of their young careers. Hughton’s side at the finish contained five of his summer recruits in a record outlay designed to address the deficiencies which undermined his debut season at the helm. Such solidity and defensive resolution were admirable traits lacking a reliable goalscoring threat, but in the quest to evolve Norwich appeared to had lost the hard edge which Hughton forged to address a porous start to his tenure.
Vito Mannone’s shot-stopping prowess frustrated Norwich at the Stadium of Light but the encouraging signs at West Brom were visible again on Wearside. City have exhibited a meanness without the ball and a potent intent in the final third during their recent away assignments. Robert Snodgrass’ return injected another element of devilment to City’s creative potential. Hooper was picked out with surgical precision in the second period but the striker’s glancing header dropped wide of the target.
Hughton had Wes Hoolahan and Josh Murphy on the bench and Anthony Pilkington and Elliott Bennett set to return in 2014. Norwich clearly possess the personnel to embellish that defensive ring constructed around John Ruddy. They also have a sense of momentum building and a festive fixture list that offers the potential for fresh gains. City may well have taken all three points against a fitful Sunderland but in denying the Black Cats the same return they maintained a sizeable distance between the two clubs that already appears unbridgeable.
Look beyond Norwich into the lowest reaches of the Premier League and you see rivals riven by internal politics that have messily erupted into the public domain or experiencing the upsetting process of managerial change. Norwich have no such worries and must make the most of real possibilities for further progress.