WITH Steve Bruce back at the ground where he made his name as a footballer, pictures of the lean centre-back were aplenty at Carrow Road yesterday.
Norwich City’s programme editor took it as his latest excuse to gleefully dig out the picture of Bruce’s winning goal in the 1985 League Cup semi-final win over Ipswich Town. The old-fashioned strips, tight shorts and dodgy hairstyles were a sharp reminder that 1985 was an awfully long time ago.
That was the year Sunderland last won at Carrow Road. It would prove a false dawn, the Canaries getting revenge in the League Cup final days later before both teams were relegated. Last night, it was the Black Cats’ first win of the campaign which was looking decidedly deceptive as they were totally outplayed by a Norwich side themselves yet to win on the ground this season until Leon Barnett and Steve Morison’s goals in a one-sided encounter.
It was an incredibly nervy first half from a Sunderland side one might have expected to show more confidence after their belated first win of 2011-12, littered with mistakes and misplaced passes.
When Titus Bramble misjudged an early header, Wes Hoolahan could only lob over the onrushing Simon Mignolet.
The Belgian goalkeeper was the worst culprit when it came to sloppy mistakes. Seconds later he swiped at a Bramble backpass and totally miskicked, conceding a corner.
He was nearly made to pay for fumbling a cross but recovered just before Elliott Bennett, racing in, could latch on to the ball. It was a similar story when he came off his line to catch, dropping Kyle Naughton’s cross but clinging on before it got close to hitting the ground. It was hardly the stuff to inspire confidence in his back four, and neither was the punt downfield which spun off Morison as the Welshman closed him down.
Wes Brown and John O’Shea, the cool heads shipped in this summer, were both guilty too. The stand-in captain was fortunate Morison did not intercept a risky pass across goal to his former Manchester United team-mate Brown, who later picked out Hoolahan yards in front of him across the halfway line. The Canaries captain carried the ball to the edge of the penalty area, but his shot deflected wide for a corner.
By then Sunderland had been punished.
David Vaughan charged down Naughton’s shot from 35 yards but it was not cleared. Bennett played a one-two with David Fox and when he crossed, centre-back Leon Barnett was in a criminal amount of space yards out, dead centre of goal, to tap in.
Stephane Sessegnon was playing much closer to Nicklas Bendtner than his opposite number Hoolahan was to Morison. Both Sunderland strikers showed good flashes, but little more.
Bendtner’s chest control allowed Vaughan the shot which deflected harmlessly wide after 16 minutes. Craig Gardner hit a Bendtner pass over after the Dane played his part in a good move involving Vaughan and Sessegnon.
Seconds later Sessegnon shot wide after never totally getting the ball out of his feet on the turn. It was the 26th minute before Bendtner forced the first real save of the game, having teed up a volley for himself from Sessegnon’s pass.
His technique was less precise when he met Sebastian Larsson’s stoppage-time pass slightly off balance.
It would be a disappointing performance from Larsson, as shown by the fact that Sunderland hauled him off as they prepared to take a corner – normally the Swede’s main job.
Whatever Bruce said at half-time did little to focus their minds, judging by Morison’s 48th-minute goal. When Bradley Johnson threaded a lovely ball down the inside-right channel, Anthony Pilkington floated a cross over which allowed the lone striker to climb above Brown and head home.
Bendtner was unable to take advantage of a horrendous mess by Johnson, trying to deal with a Kieran Richardson cross. He poked wide from a tight angle. But Norwich went straight down the other end and when Mignolet could only help Bennett’s shot into the path of Russell Martin, who let the visitors off the hook.
Bruce’s only tactic when his team are trailing this season seems to be throwing on strikers, but Connor Wickham and Ji Dong-Won quickly had a positive effect.
The Korean was lively down the left while the first touch from former Ipswich Town striker Wickham directed an Elmohamady cross straight at John Ruddy.
Even so, Norwich were playing ole football with ten minutes to go. Substitute James Vaughan could even have added a third, but shot wide after turning Bramble far too easily.
Instead it was Richardson who found the net with a speculative effort from the left four minutes from time which somehow snaked through. But the goal proved to be just another false dawn.