Quest for Premier League progress on track

Posted by Paddy Davitt

Mark Runnacles/Getty ImagesWes Brown's sending off capped a frustrating afternoon for Sunderland against Norwich City.

Norwich City’s Premier League point in a goalless stalemate at struggling Sunderland on Saturday may not be a cause for euphoric celebration, but it underlined Chris Hughton’s squad possess the will to resist.

The scale of embarrassing hammerings at Manchester City and Liverpool raised genuine concerns about the collective character within the Canaries’ ranks to marry the sort of solidity they routinely exhibit at Carrow Road with more than a modicum of defiance away.

Norwich have now earned league clean sheets at both West Brom and Sunderland in recent weeks, each secured in trying circumstances. Albion pounded away relentlessly at the Hawthorns, but John Ruddy and his two central defensive stalwarts in Sebastien Bassong and Michael Turner manfully resisted. All three starred again at the Stadium of Light as Sunderland’s desperation for a win to convince the majority they are not listing aimlessly along the bottom guaranteed a fraught second half fueled by palpable angst on the terraces.

Referee Martin Atkinson was berated for each decision awarded in the visitors’ favour; a crescendo of disapproval that reached its climax in stoppage time when he turned down frantic penalty appeals against Bassong before red-carding Wes Brown for a crude lunge that dumped Ricky van Wolfswinkel to the turf borne out of frustration.

Brown will now be suspended for a festive period which looks increasingly pivotal to the Black Cats' survival hopes, but the former Manchester United defender could harbour few complaints given the nature of his robust challenge in the modern climate. Atkinson’s departure from the pitch at the final whistle gave the home fans one last chance to air their disgust, but in truth the underlying message was directed at Gus Poyet and his players who failed to seriously test Ruddy.

City’s counter-attacking policy, which worked superbly at West Brom, was adapted to their new surroundings in a first half where Gary Hooper tested Vito Mannone from range and inconceivably, given his recent prolific plunder, failed to anticipate the trajectory of Martin Olsson’s whipped cross, which bounced off the former Celt inside Sunderland's six-yard box.

Norwich’s offensive endeavours were far more circumspect after the interval, with the Black Cats’ largely pinning Hughton’s men back but Hooper and van Wolfswinkel both spurned decent opportunities in a frantic final quarter.

Hughton wore the look of a contented man after reflecting on eight points from their last five Premier League games, which continue to edge the Canaries further clear of those in greatest peril. Sunderland’s support knew this was a missed opportunity as they trooped away from the Stadium of Light. In contrast, Norwich can now look forward to festive home tests against Fulham and Manchester United with renewed confidence.

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