Black Cats boost survival hopes to drag Norwich back into trouble
Sunderland grabbed a survival lifeline as goals from Fabio Borini, Jermain Defoe and Duncan Watmore secured a priceless 3-0 win at relegation rivals Norwich.
Defeat for the Black Cats would have left them seven points adrift of Norwich and safety, with boss Sam Allardyce facing the drop from the Premier League for the first time in his career.
But Borini's first-half penalty and second-half strikes from Defoe and Watmore means Allardyce has reeled in the Canaries to within a point - and his side have a game in hand.
These two clubs play for the Friendship Trophy whenever they meet, a tradition stemming back from the 1985 League Cup final between the sides.
But there was nothing remotely amicable about this clash, with tempers boiling over virtually straight from the kick-off.
Just three minutes had elapsed when a clearly pumped up Robbie Brady challenged DeAndre Yedlin and sent the Sunderland full-back crashing head first into the advertising hoardings
Sunderland goalkeeping coach Adrian Tucker immediately grabbed Brady before players and staff from both sides squared up in front of the dug-out.
Allardyce was in the thick of the melee, shoving Norwich midfielder Jonny Howson and substitute Cameron Jerome in ugly scenes which will likely land both clubs an FA charge.
The two teams had more pressing concerns, though, and a football match eventually broke out, with chances at either end in a frantic opening half.
Norwich striker Dieumerci Mbokani's header from Brady's cross was saved by Vito Mannone, who also kept out Martin Olsson's 30-yard volley and prevented Younes Kaboul from slicing into his own net.
For Sunderland, Borini lashed a shot across goal and wide and Lee Cattermole skied a close-range chance.
But the breakthrough arrived four minutes before half-time when Andre Wisdom caught Borini in the area.
Wisdom got a slight touch on the ball but also took a chunk of Borini's ankle and was shown a yellow card before the Italian coolly converted the penalty low into the left corner.
Norwich were a whisker away from an equaliser when half-time substitute Nathan Redmond let fly from 20 yards only to hit the foot of a post.
Instead Sunderland grabbed the killer second in the 53rd minute, after Jan Kirchhoff brushed off Sebastien Bassong far too easily and fed Borini down the right.
Borini pinged a perfect low ball across goal and Defoe arrived at the far post to tuck away his 16th goal of the season.
Norwich's frustration grew when Younes Kaboul appeared to bring down Mbokani in the area, but Marriner waved play on.
Sunderland skipper Cattermole then came to the fore with an amazing double goal-line clearance to deny Mbokani and then Wes Hoolahan with the follow-up.
And the visitors sewed up the victory in stoppage time when Sebastian Larsson played in Watmore for a simple finish past John Ruddy.
Allardyce now has his survival fate firmly back in his own hands, while City have been dragged right back into trouble.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
"Big decision correctly called.. Great pen from Borini.." - former Sunderland winger Kevin Kilbane (@kdkilbane77) has no doubts whether the penalty decision was the right one.
John Ruddy: 6/10
Andre Wisdom: 4
Sebastien Bassong: 4
Ryan Bennett: 6
Martin Olsson: 5
Robbie Brady: 6
Gary O'Neil: 6
Jonny Howson: 6
Matt Jarvis: 6
Steven Naismith: 6
Dieumerci Mbokani: 6
Nathan Redmond: 7
Wes Hoolahan: 6
Cameron Jerome: 6
Vito Mannone: 6
Patrick van Aanholt: 6
Lamine Kone: 7
Younes Kaboul: 6
DeAndre Yedlin: 6
Lee Cattermole: 8
Jan Kirchhoff: 7
Wahbi Khazri: 5
Yann M'Vila: 6
Fabio Borini: 7
Jermain Defoe: 7
Duncan Watmore: 7
Sebastian Larsson: 7
John O'Shea: 6
Lee Cattermole: The Sunderland skipper typified his side's never-say-die attitude with a stunning double goal-line clearance to cap a terrific display.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Never has a player been more inappropriately named. Wisdom's challenge on Borini was brainless and the game turned on that one moment of madness.
VIEW FROM THE BENCH
Norwich missed their injured defender Timm Klose. Bassong replaced him but was unconvincing and at fault for the second goal. Sunderland stuck with their tried and tested line-up with Defoe and Borini excellent up front.
MOAN OF THE MATCH
The atmosphere was electric at Carrow Road so why the need to hand out those wretched cardboard clappers to fans before the match? Totally unnecessary and an almighty din.
WHO'S UP NEXT?
Arsenal v Norwich, Barclays Premier League (Saturday, April 30)
Sunderland v Arsenal, Barclays Premier League (Sunday, April 24)
Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce did not feel his side played that well but said the performance was secondary to the result - which he believes is huge.
He told BT Sport: " It's a fantastic 3-0 win for us, without us playing that well. Playing well at the moment doesn't matter, all that matters is results and we've got it and it's a big, big, big, big win.
"Hopefully it's going to spur us on to more victories because we need them to get safe."
The first-half penalty decision that led to Sunderland's opening goal was one of the key incidents of the match, and Borini says the referee got it spot-on.
The striker said: "No, no question (about the foul) because he almost broke my leg. So it was definitely a pen and I took it how I know how to take it."
Norwich manager Alex Neil felt that decision could have gone either way, but was disappointed by some of the other things that went against his side - including what he believes was a foul on Bassong in the build-up to Defoe's goal.
Neil also said his team did not help themselves.
He said: "I think decisions within the game didn't go in our favour, but I think decisions we made also contributed to it.
"I thought it was a clear foul (on Bassong). I thought the penalty in the first half...Andre Wisdom hits the ball first as well and then makes contact afterwards. You could argue both sides on that one, but I think Seb's one looks a definite foul to me.
"I think the referee let a lot go in the game, and a lot of them didn't balance out in our favour if I'm being honest."
He added of Norwich's survival hopes following the defeat: "If we're going to stay up we're going to have to do it the hard way. It's a sore one today."