MARTIN O’Neill has admitted his players badly lacked creativity as Sunderland’s woes continued against ten-man Norwich.
The Black Cats could only take a point from the Stadium of Light despite holding a numerical advantage for an hour of yesterday’s 1-1 draw, following Norwich goalkeeper Mark Bunn’s red card for handling outside the box.
O’Neill now has eight Premier League games to save Sunderland from the drop and the way his side are playing it would come as no surprise if they do slip into the relegation zone. Third-bottom Wigan’s win against Newcastle took them to within four points of Sunderland – and they also have a game in hand.
Not for the first time, the Wearsiders were completely devoid of imagination in front of goal and Norwich looked the more likely to score a winner.
O’Neill said: “The second half was very disappointing. We should have made the extra man count.
“It’s very frustrating. For one reason or another, when you’re on a run like we are on confidence is a wee bit low, even with the creative players.
“We had an opportunity
there at home to get three points, but it’s been difficult all season for us and we have games still to play. They are tough matches, every one of them. The whole league is tough for us.
“We had time to settle down at half-time, compose ourselves and go out to try to break them down. We were unsuccessful.
“When we did get in to good positions, Michael Turner must have cleared three out of the six-yard box. We needed someone in there, but we didn’t do enough in the second half.”
Sunderland’s day could have been worse had referee Chris Foy spotted the ball striking Danny Rose inside the box.
Ironically, it was in almost the same position Sébastien Bassong handled to give Sunderland a penalty, from which Craig Gardner scored.
O’Neill added: “I have not seen one incident back yet. I have been assured we had a bit of luck with Danny Rose’s.
“They tell me the other incident is that Grant Holt’s challenge is quite nasty on Simon Mignolet.”
Sunderland’s final eight matches are all difficult.
Of the teams they will face, only mid-table Stoke City have little to play for in terms of the title, European places and relegation.
O’Neill said: “They are all difficult games. We had a situation around Christmas time and we looked at the fixture list, where we had to win back-to-back games, and we have to do that again.
“My concern is we now have players on international duty and I hope they come back in one piece.”
Norwich manager Chris Hughton felt his team was hard done by and deserved more than a point.
He said: “To be down to ten men for as long as what we were and to come out with the best chance of the game, with Grant Holt in the second-half, we could have won it.
“I can’t remember a clear chance Sunderland had.
“From the angle we have, which is higher in the stands, yes I did fear when Mark Bunn comes out because there’s a risk.
“Speaking with him, he is adamant it caught him underneath his arm. You run the risk with that one.
“The Bassong one, if it is handball it was also offside. That’s the same linesman who has given the penalty decision.
“The one thing I did see was the Danny Rose incident. I knew he was in the box even if I didn’t know if it was handball.”