Match Report: Sunderland 1-1 Norwich City - Poor Showing Spotlights O'Neill's Concerns

Michael Regan

Martin O'Neill's midweek comments about his team lacking ability were again confirmed, as Sunderland failed to genuinely trouble 10-man Norwich City at the Stadium of Light.

Craig Gardner scored from the spot as Sunderland again had to claw their way back into a home game, but received a glut of good fortune in the process. Wes Hoolahan had given the Canaries a deserved lead midway through the first half, before a succession of decisions from the match officials assisted another lacklustre display from O'Neill's men.

Whilst the result hardly alters the relegation landscape, although Sunderland's next three games highlighted the need for victory, Chris Hughton will be the far happier manager having seen Mark Bunn sent off in the first half.

Both sides exchanged corners in a tentative opening, before a glimpse of the Graham-Fletcher partnership as the former headed the ball onto the latter, only for Bassong to squeeze Fletcher out. Yet the ball was still loose, until Bunn raced off his line to smother Graham's attempt at goal.

From a second Sunderland corner, Adam Johnson's ball to the far post was just too high for John O'Shea, who headed over. Yet it was the visitors who looked more dangerous from set plays; after forcing successive corner kicks, Kei Kamara was left unmarked to head towards goal and Hoolahan ensured that the ball would cross the line.

It proved to be the start of a hectic few minutes as Bunn saw red just four minutes later. Rushing out to get to Michael Turner's weak back header, the goalkeeper saw the bounce just before him, coming up and striking him on what Chris Foy believed to be Bunn's arm outside the area.

Following the fall-out of the decision - which saw Hoolahan replaced by Lee Camp - Gardner lined up the free kick in his customary way, although was unable to cut across the ball sufficiently, and his effort flashed past the far post.

Norwich again threatened from out wide as Elliott Bennett shrugged off Carlos Cuellar but was prevented from crossing by O'Shea. The resulting corner found its way to Bennett on the edge of the box, but his first-time effort was comfortably over.

As O'Shea played another ball up to Fletcher, the match officials were again forced to determine another hand-ball claim. Bassong stepped in front of the striker, controlling the ball with his chest but onto his right arm. As in recent weeks, Gardner made no mistake from the resulting penalty kick.

Buoyed by those decisions, Sunderland sought to capitalise on the man advantage and should have gone in front; Seb Larsson's fierce shot was parried by Camp, and with the goalkeeper failing to recover a decent position, Graham hooked his shot wide of an empty goal.

Danny Rose struck the post as the half-time whistle sounded, and the second half began in similar fashion with Gardner making full use of space afforded to him by twice forcing saves from Camp.

Despite the one-man advantage, Sunderland had to ride a testing few minutes as a Rose handball was deemed outside the penalty area on 69 minutes - further infuriating visiting fans as Rose, upon landing from jumping to block an attempted cross, appeared inside the box. Then came two substitutes' first impressions on the game: Titus Bramble left a Norwich clearance, enabling Grant Holt to go one-on-one with Simon Mignolet, but the striker's heavy touch enabled the Sunderland keeper to thwart his advances.

A desperate final 10 minutes saw Johnson's edge-of-the-area shot deflected over, Connor Wickham introduced and Stephane Sessegnon drag a half-volley wide. Yet Norwich looked capable of exploiting Sunderland's high defensive line as Larsson saw yellow for illegally halting Jonny Howson's break. Added-time substitute Steven Whittaker went one better; evading James McClean and cutting a cross back from the byline but the Canaries were unwilling to commit men forward, content to soak up pressure and, ultimately, a point on the road.

Stick around in our Match Stream, HERE, because we'll have more reaction and reporting later on.

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