- And so it came to pass that the 11 hours spent on a coach was worthwhile after all.
- And that the 2,500 disciples shoehorned into the corner of Carrow Road were loud in their praise of The Great God Sam and his angels and archangels on the field.
- And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the followers of the home team, who vented their fury by renting their garments and hurling their clappers and plastic canaries onto the Holy Ground of the aforementioned Carrow Road.
- And there was much gaiety and joyfulness on the long and (not very) winding road back to the Land of Milk and Honey that is known as County Durham.
It was a very good result and a performance that showed that when the going gets tough, Sunderland AFC get going. Here was a game against the one team who could outstrip them and who could play a major part in consigning them to the nether regions and ruin Sam Allardyce’s record as a manager who has never been relegated from the Premier League.
As it was, a solid team selection, two excellent substitutions and a considerable amount of commitment and no little skill saw us home and put Norwich into serious trouble.
The trip down saw darkness, sunshine, snow in Lincolnshire, rain, sleet and a stop at a wonderfully kitsch farm café west of Kings Lynn. Norwich was hit at 10.30, papers were purchased and pints were taken in the excellent Coach and Horses, home of the equally excellent Chalk Hill Brewery. No Stewards and Pattersons here, although a pint of wonderful Watney’s Red Barrel would have gone down well. (Cut the sarcasm – Ed).
A pleasant walk to the ground along the banks of the Wensum, past Bella Pasta, Wetherspoons, Nandos and all the other accoutrements of modern life that make it so wonderful, and we were tucked up in a corner of Norfolk that will forever be County Durham as the rain began to pour on the assembled multitude.
|Same team as last week but neither Rodwell nor Lens made it on to the bench. Both have limited futures at Sunderland and I suspect that neither will be with us next season. Lens will get fixed up somewhere but Rodwell must be worried about where he ends up. Aston Villa perhaps?|
As most of the readership probably saw on the box, the opening was frantic – but Norwich doesn’t really do frantic. Off the pitch, they are just too nice and on the pitch, although the stadium is tight and quite oppressive, they never seem like a team that will bully you.
The push by Brady on Yedlin started a contretemps on the far touchline, with even Paul Bracewell getting out of his seat (although that may have been to avoid being sat on by Sam) and it was followed by some general pushing and shoving all over the pitch.
|Norwich had the better of the opening twenty minutes and Mannone made a couple of smart saves, but City had clearly decided to eschew skill with physical power, as both Redmond and Hoolahan were named as substitutes. Jarvis and Brady did nothing; an error by Alex Neil perhaps?|
Not as great an error as the one perpetrated by Andre Wisdom in the 41st minute though. We had already missed one good chance with Defoe inches away from an excellent low cross from Borini, when Defoe reciprocated and Borini took the ball in the box. Wisdom clattered into him and Andre Marriner (about as popular with this writer as Mike and Bernie Winters) pointed to the spot.
It happened at the other end to where we were located, but Marriner seemed certain and there was not a great deal of complaining from those with the clappers sat in the River End. Up stepped Borini to put a cracking shot past Ruddy and just inside the post. Subsequent texts confirmed that Marriner was correct and that had Wisdom’s foot been a fraction higher, he would have been in the dressing room and Fabio would have been in the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (with thanks to Merv, in Comments below, for the corrected title – Ed), with a broken tib and fib.
A goal ahead at half time was what we would have hoped for but our current record of holding onto a lead is not great. So, an anxious 45 minutes beckoned as fingernails were gnawed and worry beads were counted.
Norwich made two huge tactical changes in the second half. Off went the ineffectual Jarvis to be replaced by Redmond and Mbokani decided that he would try to level out the penalty count by falling down in the box every time Kaboul came within three feet of him.
Fortunately Mr Marriner was not to be suckered in by this blatant cheating and he was equally able to identify a good tackle as Kirchhoff took the ball off Bassong, threaded it down the wing to Borini who laid on a superb low cross for the admirable Defoe (another man who does not want a relegation on his record) to turn in at the far post.
Norwich pushed forward and left gaps. Watmore, on for a tired looking and ineffectual Khazri, galloped through twice and delayed his pass causing the increasingly anxious/delighted Red and Whites to praise and curse in equal proportions.
When it got to 80 minutes, a feeling of calm and tranquillity fell over me, similar to those that the late Mr Howard Marks felt on numerous occasions, as I realised that Norwich were shot. The arrival of Seb Larsson had tightened us up and the third goal from Duncan Watmore was the icing on the cake and saw a mass exodus and terracing full of redundant clappers. Hooray for that.
It was a very important win and there were some excellent performances from Mannone, Kaboul, Kone, Kirchhoff and Borini but the outstanding players were Cattermole and Defoe.
The former remains a player who I can praise one week and criticise the next but he was simply magnificent here. His leadership was exemplary and the two clearances he made off the line and his reaction to them showed that he could be a huge factor in our staying up. He looks much more effective playing further forward and it allows Kirchhoff to pick up the ball in the midfield areas where Cattermole usually gives away free kicks and gets booked.
Defoe was brilliant. His positioning and running were far too good for Bassong and Bennett and, if a donkey like Andy Carroll and a colt like Marcus Rashford can be touted for the Euro squad, what price a real thoroughbred like Jermain Defoe?
And now here is something you would not expect to see in a Sixer’s Soapbox column – praise for Andre Marriner who refereed the game very well. He is by no means my favourite whistler but he understood the importance of the game and refused to be “intimidated” by the almost hysterical Norwich crowd who seemed to think that every tackle was a foul and that every foul should be followed by either a yellow card, a red card or a ritual disemboweling in the grounds of the Cathedral. Well done Andre and keep it up, as I used to write on countless reports.
The journey home was a long one, not helped by the fact that visiting coaches have to park fifteen minutes’ walk away from the ground and then are expected to join the free for all that is the Norwich traffic system. An hour and a quarter after the game, we were sat outside the main stand admiring the team coach as the Newcastle-Swansea game reached half time. No escort from the Norfolk police (too busy chasing turnip rustlers I expect) so if we play City next season, I suggest parking their coaches at Ryhope and then directing them through Seaham, Easington and Horden before putting them on the A19.
The A47 and the A17 were interminable although the large village churches on this route make me think of an England before the Industrial Revolution when nobody ever left their home village and had never dreamt of the wonders of Costa Coffee and Frankie and Benny’s. After 11 hours on a coach, my aching knees and legs were suggesting that I might have been better off staying at home and watching it on the box.
But aching knees and a throbbing leg are but little discomfort after a wonderful 3-0 win. Keep the Faith and Ha’way The Lads.