There was a sending-off at Sunderland yesterday, a penalty and a penalty that was not given, all for the use of the hand, but there was more than that, far more. There was unrest. The mood on Wearside is undeniably bleak.
Norwich City and Sunderland may yet come to cherish the point they each earned from a truly dire game of football, but certainly for the home side that was not the case, either during or in the immediate aftermath of a game whose headlines will be taken by the referee, Chris Foy.
Foy sent off the Norwich goalkeeper Mark Bunn in the 29th minute for racing outside his area to try to stop Danny Graham, who had got behind the Canaries’ defence. Bunn put his arms up, Graham did not actually touch the attempted Michael Turner clearance and the ball struck the side of the goalkeeper’s body and the underside of his arm. Foy took his time and produced a red card. Bunn saw the same colour, hurling his gloves off in fury as he finally left the field of play.
Norwich were ahead by that point, and deservedly so. Three minutes before the dismissal, Robert Snodgrass had taken a corner from the right which Kei Kamara had headed towards Wes Hoolahan, who steered his side ahead. The marking was shambolic. Sunderland were poor. Then came the sending-off.
Ten minutes later John O’Shea sent the ball forward, Steven Fletcher was in an offside position but went back without touching the ball, Sebastien Bassong had little of concern to worry about but he chested the ball onto his outstretched left arm. Sunderland had a penalty. Norwich could barely contain renewed fury. Craig Gardner smashed the kick into the roof of their goal. At that point came the opportunity for Sunderland to ease what are now serious relegation worries. They did not take it.
Two minutes and 15 seconds of the game had passed when O’Shea misplaced a simple pass meant for Gardner. The ball went out and there were grumbles and jeers from the crowd. That sense of dissatisfaction scarcely altered all day. There were a fraction under 38,000 Sunderland supporters in the ground and their mood, barring their reactions to the dismissal and the penalty, never varied a great deal from the initial feeling of doom.
Sunderland played for more than an hour against 10 men and created nothing of note. “I can’t remember them creating a clear chance,” said the Norwich manager Chris Hughton. He seemed as unsurprised to be saying it as those Sunderland supporters were to watch that happen.
Norwich should have had a penalty themselves when Danny Rose handled. This time Foy got it wrong, judging that the stray arm was outside the home box.
The two best chances went to Norwich. In the 72nd minute Titus Bramble, a substitute, missed a long ball and Grant Holt, another substitute, was clear on goal before a horribly heavy first touch allowed Simon Mignolet to take the ball from him (he was then clattered by Holt for a deserved yellow card). Holt was almost on the end of a low cross from Steven Whittaker in the third minute of injury-time.
In the 75th minute, James McClean came on as a substitute. He was booed by a section of Sunderland supporters (for anti-British establishment statements on Twitter). In the 79th minute, Bramble was booed by the home supporters when he was in possession following his mistake. In the 80th minute a Seb Larsson corner did not beat the first man. He was booed. In the 82nd minute, a Gardner pass did not find Stephane Sessegnon. He was booed. When Connor Wickham came on in the 84th minute for Adam Johnson, there were cheers for Martin O’Neill’s decision. They were ironic.
“We were inhibited,” said O’Neill. “The situation got to the players. For one reason and another, going on the run at this moment we are on, confidence is a wee bit low, even for the creative players. The second-half performance was very disappointing. With that extra man we should have tried to make it count. It was frustrating for the number of chances we didn’t create. It’s been difficult for us all season. We have games still to play, tough matches every one of them, but the whole league has been tough for us.”