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Sunderland v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light

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Matchday Musings - Norwich (H): Sunderland just experienced one of those days on Saturday afternoon!

The Lads acquitted themselves well against a tough and classy opponent, but when Sunderland needed the rub of the green, we didn’t quite get it

Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Is it just me, or is life in the Championship a little more complicated than League One, in terms of emotions?

During our time in the third tier, there were essentially three regular post-match reactions: hitting rock bottom after every defeat, inevitable deflation when we were pegged back to draw, and satisfaction after a victory.

In this division, however, things are different.

During at least half of our fixtures so far this season, we haven’t got the rewards that we deserved, but we’re still bloody proud of the lads and the effort they’re putting in.

Today’s game against Norwich was complicated by the imminent departure of Alex Neil, but enough has been written about that, and the important stuff is on the pitch.

With the team that Neil himself picked, we set up pretty much as expected, with Dan Neil’s return possibly a slight surprise, but Corry Evans’ selection largely expected.

Sunderland v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light
Martin Canning - will he be off to join Stoke City?
Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

As we have done so often this season, we came out of the blocks and hunted in packs high up the pitch, which was a joy to see. How long has it been since we have had a squad capable of getting after sides whenever we have the ball?

Dean Smith’s team are no mugs and will be vying for promotion this season, but early doors, they simply couldn’t handle the pressure we were putting them under. Having said that, we needed to take advantage and find a killer pass or a clinical finish to get us off the mark.

As the first half wore on, Norwich started to look more threatening, and on the rare occasions they broke forward, perhaps they should've scored.

In our desperation to break the deadlock, gaps were opening up between front and back, and one misplaced pass gave the visitors an opportunity, with Josh Sargent somehow missing from close range.

Sunderland v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship
Ellis Simms with an early chance against Norwich
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

We went in goalless at half-time, and rueing the size of Grant Hanley’s forehead, after he got in the way of an Evans volley that was heading for the top corner. However, we had undoubtedly showed what we can do, having been by far the better side against one of the strongest teams in the division.

After the break, it was a slightly different story, and this is where the learning curve of the Championship came into play.

Norwich knew they had got away with it in the first half, and they came out determined not to make the same mistakes again. Their tactics were to try and slow the game right down in a way that was reminiscent of a Peter Ebdon/Ronnie O’Sullivan snooker match, when Ebdon would turn every frame into a grind.

For the first fifteen minutes of the second half, we couldn’t find our rhythm, and Ellis Simms became a passenger as we tried to supply him and Ross Stewart with the kind of service they have been used to receiving.

Sunderland v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship
Ross Stewart hits the bar thanks to Tim Krul closing his eyes and hoping for the best...
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Around the hour mark, the game pivoted on a couple of key moments, the first of which was Stewart hitting the bar thanks to Tim Krul closing his eyes and hoping for the best, and then Alex Pritchard’s follow-up shot not finding the net.

Two minutes later, Norwich made a triple substitution, and with the introduction of Aaron Ramsey, Teemu Pukki and Todd Cantwell, the game began to tilt in their favour.

Amid calls from the stands that suggested we needed to make changes ourselves, it was a tired-looking Simms who saw his header hit the woodwork.

The sucker punch eventually arrived through Sargent with around fifteen minutes remaining.

Danny Batth was pulled out of position by Pukki, which allowed Ramsey in down the left. Sargent made a run into the space that Batth had vacated and once Ramsey had done his bit, there was only one outcome.

Bugger.

Sunderland v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light
It was one of those days...
Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

These kinds of goals always feel worse.

You know we should be winning the game, and when you don’t take advantage of your dominance, there’s almost an inevitability about the whole thing.

Although I love the high press, there needs to be a ‘plan B’, and we clearly needed changes when you consider the effort that went into the first hour of the game.

It sounds like new-age nonsense at times, but game management becomes even more important as you move up the pyramid, and how we didn’t come out with anything could only be put down to naivety, especially when you consider how good the performance was,

Having said that, the important thing is that we are creating chances. If we weren’t, there would be concerns about the rest of this season, but the fact is that on another day we’d have been celebrating a victory.

Another point to note was that the referee was rubbish, which is another recurring theme this season, and although we huffed and puffed without really creating anything clear cut, the results will come if we keep performing to these levels.

A lot of the pre-game chatter was about how the players would react to recent events, but there was also a question about how the fans would react - and we gave a resounding answer.

The Stadium of Light crowd were superb today, almost giving the Lads an extra yard in the early stages, and showing that we continue to do our thing regardless of who is in charge.

Sunderland v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship
Regardless of who is in charge, we’ll keep doing our thing...
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

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