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Mar 23, 2014

Ruthless Norwich push Sunderland closer to the Prem precipice


Norwich City's 2-0 Premier League win over Sunderland was more emphatic than it suggests, but did illustrate they might just avoid a fraught passage to safety. - Report: Norwich City 2-0 Sunderland Robert Snodgrass' fourth goal in eight league games and Alex Tettey's wonderfully instinctive volley lashed past Vito Mannone all inside the first 35 minutes barely reflected the superiority of manager Chris Hughton's side. Sunderland boss Gus Poyet was forced to make a double alteration to his midfield before the interval. The likable Uruguayan conceded afterwards it could have been any of the nine players sacrificed in a bid to halt City's flow, but the game was already up. The scale of Poyet's irritation was obvious as Sunderland's players emerged a full five minutes early for the second half. This was a big day in the context of the relegation battle. Sunderland may still have three games in hand to close a seven-point gap to the Canaries, but that gulf looks unbridgeable on the latest evidence. Norwich were bold and proactive where they had been compliant the previous weekend against Southampton in another shambles of an away offering that raised serious doubts over City's collective will to resist. It was a testament to their deep reserves of character that they responded so decisively. Sunderland were poor, but that should in no way detract from the zeal in which Hughton's players set about their task. From front to back they were better than their direct opponents. Johan Elmander has been a target for the disenchanted given his sparse goal return since arriving on a season-long loan from Galatasaray. Despite failing to add to a solitary Premier League strike against the Saints seven days earlier, he left the field to a raucous ovation at Carrow Road after a shift rich in selfless endeavour. Ricky van Wolfswinkel spurned another two chances to improve his similarly meagre tally but the Dutchman appeared to value Elmander's presence in a twin-pronged attack that Poyet himself described as a 'brave' move by his opposite number. Hughton gambled and lost at Southampton when he made five changes to his starting line-up. Another radical overhaul in personnel and approach brought him a rich dividend at the Black Cats' expense. Jonny Howson and Tettey owned midfield, with the Norwegian's 30-yard volley capping a virtuoso display. Norwich's hard-pressed fans have had to exist on slim rations of entertainment for the majority of another season of incremental gains, but this was the pay-off with City finally cashing in during a period of dominance when too often in the preceding months they have failed to convert territorial hegemony into tangible reward. Sunderland desperately tried to up the ante but Sebastien Bassong and Joseph Yobo were in belligerent mood and it was Norwich who should have put the game out of sight with Mannone tipping over a van Wolfswinkel header early in the second half. Given the high stakes nature of this contest, Norwich coasted to the victory. That raises serious questions over Sunderland's own ability to escape. For Hughton and his players, it provided three points and renewed belief that they can extricate themselves from a relegation fight that looks set to go right to the finish.