Handball controversy as Norwich hold Sunderland
Premier League, Stadium of Light - Sunderland (Gardner 40 pen) Norwich City (Hoolahan 26)
Norwich City survived a first-half red card shown to goalkeeper Mark Bunn and two controversial handball decisions to hold on for a 1-1 draw at Sunderland in the Premier League.
Wes Hoolahan nodded Norwich in front from close range after 26 minutes but the visitors' hopes of recording only a second win in 10 were terminally damaged soon after when Bunn was shown a red card for handling outside his box and denying Danny Graham a clear goalscoring opportunity.
Bunn was livid but it appeared to be the correct verdict from referee Chris Foy. His next major decision, however, was rather more controversial as he harshly penalised Norwich defender Sebastien Bassong for another handball, allowing Craig Gardner to strike the equaliser from the spot after 40 minutes.
However, Sunderland proved unable to take advantage of their good fortune and boos greeted the conclusion of a rather limp performance that leaves them seven points clear of the bottom three, but with a string of tricky fixtures to come.
Sunderland made three changes from the side that lost 3-1 away at QPR last weekend: Rose, Carlos Cuellar and David Vaughan coming in for Jack Colback, Titus Bramble and Alfred N'Diaye. Norwich, meanwhile, replaced Grant Holt with Hoolahan as Kei Kamara took up a lone striker's role.
The January signing has made a positive impression since arriving from Sporting Kansas City and was instrumental in the opening goal after 26 minutes as a desperately poor game suddenly sprung into life. Kamara rose majestically to meet a corner and his downwards header back across goal was heading in even before Hoolahan made sure when heading it over the line.
Within three minutes, though, momentum swung back firmly in Sunderland's favour. Michael Turner was guilty of a poor header back to Bunn and as the keeper ran out of the box his arm blocked the ball with his arm, just as Graham was ready to sneak past. Bunn was apoplectic when the red card came out, throwing his gloves to the ground in disgust, but he prevented an almost certain goal and deserved to go.
Norwich had to sacrifice their only real luxury player, Hoolahan, and Lee Camp came on in his place to deal with the free-kick resulting from the Bunn infringement, with Gardner producing a fine attempt that flew just past the post.
After 38 minutes Norwich were left infuriated once again. Steven Fletcher curled a pass into the box and as Bassong attempted to control with his chest the ball went on to catch him on the bicep. Quite how referee Foy could deem the action to be deliberate was hugely questionable, never mind further suspicions of offside, but a penalty was awarded and Gardner struck the ball home confidently for his fourth goal from the spot this season.
Sunderland were now firmly on top and pressed for a second before the half was out, Rose forcing Camp into a scrambling save to turn his effort round the post just seconds before Foy blew for the break.
Spotting a big opportunity to claim a first win since January, Sunderland tried to commit men forward with right-back Gardner seeing plenty of action in the final third, the makeshift defender lashing in a ferocious effort from a tight angle that Camp only just touched over the bar with his fingertips. The home side might also have had another penalty when Russell Martin appeared to nudge Fletcher in the back.
Referee Foy continued to anger the visiting fans on 69 minutes though as he turned down a strong appeal for a Norwich penalty. Martin fired in a cross from the right and the ball clearly caught the arm of Rose, who made little attempt to withdraw the limb that was dangling away from his body. It fell into the rather grey area of deliberately leaving his arm in a position that could invite contact, but looked a spot-kick.
Norwich, pinned back as Sunderland applied pressure through Adam Johnson and Stephane Sessegnon, had to settle for sporadic attacks on the break, with Kamara lively but ineffective before being replaced by Holt.
The replacement was soon in the action as he wrestled Titus Bramble and was allowed to run clear on goal by the blundering defender. Holt's touch was horribly heavy though, allowing Mignolet to charge off his line. A frustrated Holt went in dangerously on the keeper as he grabbed the ball and earned a yellow card.
Sunderland seemed to run out of ideas as the final whistle approached but Sessegnon should have grabbed a late winner when a cross from Gardner bounced up nicely for him in the box. The midfielder had plenty of time to measure up the shot but his effort was scuffed wide, much to Martin O'Neill's obvious frustration.
The draw takes Sunderland seven clear of the bottom three but with Manchester United, Chelsea, Newcastle and Everton coming in their next four matches, a failure to convert one point into three may be felt further down the line.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Russell Martin (Norwich) - A hollow award due to the lack of viable contenders but Martin had a decent game, getting forward when the occasion demanded and defending well too.
NORWICH: Bunn 5, Martin 7, Bassong 6, Turner 5, Garrido 6, Bennett 5, Howson 6, Johnson 6, Snodgrass 6, Hoolahan 7, Kamara 6. Subs: Camp 6, Holt 5, Whittaker 6.