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Premier League: Norwich 2 Sunderland 1

Norwich City secured their fourth successive home win in a hard-fought 2-1 win over Sunderland on Sunday.

Goals from Sebastien Bassong and Anthony Pilkington at Carrow Road saw Norwich extend their unbeaten run to eight matches, the joint best Premier League record in the club’s history.

For Sunderland, a second-half fight-back, following a goal from Craig Gardener on the stroke of half-time, was not enough to make up for their meek display in the opening 45 minutes.

The Canaries went into this match in the midst of a purple patch under Chris Hughton, while Sunderland were sitting just above the relegation zone thanks to just one win in their previous eight games.

This contrast in fortunes was evident from the beginning, as the hosts started with more far confidence than their guests, who seemed to invite pressure upon themselves early on.

It was no surprise when Norwich took the lead on eight minutes, when a fine piece of interplay between the influential Wes Hoolahan and Steven Whittaker resulted in a free-kick on the right hand side of the box thanks to a clumsy challenge by Danny Rose.

Robert Snodgrass duly stepped up and delivered a wicked ball into the area with his left foot, which deflected off Carlos Cuellar to leave Bassong to gleefully tap home from two yards out, with Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet stranded.

Spurred on by a raucous home crowd, Norwich continued to dominate possession, and were rewarded with a second goal after a fine passage of patient passing play when Bradley Johnson played a precise long ball over the top to find Pilkington just onside and racing through on goal.

The former Huddersfield Town man made the finish look easy, evading Cuellar’s attempted challenge before striking the ball emphatically into the far post for his second goal in successive home games.

Things were looking ominous for Martin O’Neill’s men, but they were thrown a lifeline when Craig Gardner’s long-range effort squirmed through the hands of Mark Bunn and into the far post to halve the deficit just before the break.

Former Ipswich Town striker Connor Wickham replaced the injured Steven Fletcher at half-time, entering the Carrow Road field to a chorus of boos from the home crowd.

The 19-year-old almost silenced the Canaries faithful within a couple of minutes, as Stephane Sessegnon’s driven cross was brilliantly blocked by Ryan Bennett, with the England Under-21 international lurking inside the six-yard box.

Sunderland were certainly playing with more urgency after half-time, and should have pulled level when Gardner’s swerving free-kick from all of 30 yards came back off the post to the feet of Matthew Kilgallon, who somehow managed to scoop the ball over the bar with the goal gaping.

The visitors came close twice within the next few minutes, Javier Garrido clearing Gardner’s shot off the line after Bunn’s weak punch from a corner, before the goalkeeper redeemed himself with a fine save from Sessegnon’s shot after the Benin international was put through on goal by Rose.

The offside flag denied Wickham a goal when he was on hand to tap in Bunn’s fumble from Rose’s stinging volley after a half-cleared corner, as the guests continued to press.

However, despite their second-half fightback, the visitors were unable to get that crucial second goal, and left Carrow Road empty-handed.

Sun 2 December, 2012
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