SUNDERLAND’S survival hopes took a major blow today after after the Black Cats served up a woeful display in their crunch relegation showdown at fellow strugglers Norwich City.
Gus Poyet’s side suffered a third defeat in four top-flight outings after paying the price for a dreadful opening 45 minutes at Carrow Road.
Robert Snodgrass gave the Canaries the lead midway through the first half when Norwich took advantage of Wes Brown’s awful clearance.
And with Sunderland struggling to string two passes together, Norwich then doubled their advantage through a stunning strike from Alex Tettey.
The Black Cats were better in the second half and went close to pulling one back through a Brown header, but the damage had already been done, with Poyet’s men remaining third bottom, while the Canaries pulled seven points clear of the drop zone.
Sunderland will also be without full-back Marcos Alonso for Wednesday’s trip to Liverpool after the Spaniard was sent off in stoppage time for a second yellow card.
Jozy Altidore was handed his first start in four games as a direct replacement up front for Steven Fletcher, as Gus Poyet opted not to use Fabio Borini in a central role.
The American was one of two changes to the starting XI, with Jack Colback coming in for Seb Larsson.
Norwich boss Chris Hughton made five changes to the side which lost 4-2 at Southampton, with Russell Martin, Sebastien Bassong, Wes Hoolahan, Johan Elmander and Ricky van Wolfswinkel all included.
Neither side looked genuinely threatening in the early stages, albeit Norwich enjoyed by far the lion’s share of possession.
The Canaries produced the first meaningful effort in the 12th minute when Jonny Howson’s powerful right-footed drive from the edge of the area took a slight deflection but was straight into the midriff of Vito Mannone.
But just as Sunderland looked as if they were settling, they fell behind in the 20th minute thanks to some kamikaze defending.
Martin Olsson’s low cross from the left fell to Wes Brown, inside the six-yard box, who directed his clearance straight to Elmander on the left-hand side of the area.
Elmander laid the ball back to Robert Snodgrass, who tucked it calmly into the bottom corner with Mannone wrong-footed.
Howson went close to doubling Norwich’s advantage in the 25th minute when he unleashed a shot from 20 yards with the outside of his right boot, which swerved in the air and required Mannone to push it away high to his left.
Moments later, van Wolfswinkel should have done better to Hoolahan’s low cross, but could only help the ball wide of the far post.
The second for the Canaries arrived in the 32nd minute in stunning fashion.
John O’Shea’s clearing header went as far as Alex Tettey, 25 yards out, who hit a stunning right-footed volley which rocketed into the far corner.
Sunderland’s first half display had been so wretched that Gus Poyet made a double substitution before the interval, with Lee Cattermole and Seb Larsson replacing Ki Sung-Yueng and Jack Colback.
It prompted a formation change to an orthodox 4-4-2, with Larsson going right, Adam Johnson moving to the left and Borini partnering Altidore down the middle.
Borini produced Sunderland’s first effort of note moments later when he unleashed an angled right-footed shot across goal which John Ruddy gathered low to his right.
HALF-TIME Norwich 2 Sunderland 0
Sunderland were out five minutes or so early for the second half, but they almost 3-0 down in the 47th minute when Hoolahan’s cross was headed into the turf by van Wolswinkel, but it bounced awkwardly for Mannone and he needed to tip it over the top.
The Black Cats should have pulled one back in the 51st minute though when Larsson took a corner short to Johnson, whose cross found the head of Brown six yards out.
Brown headed it downwards, but Ruddy did well to spread himself and block on the line.
Hoolahan tried his luck in the 75th minute when he played a one-two with substitute Gary Hooper on the edge of the area before hitting a low left-footed shot which was comfortable for Mannone low to his left.
Snodgrass then went desperately close in the 83rd minute when his left-footed free-kick from 25 yards cleared the crossbar by an inch or two.
Sunderland’s day then got even worse in stoppage time when Marcos Alonso was handed a second yellow card for what was deemed a deliberate handball to Larsson’s corner.
FULL-TIME Norwich 2 Sunderland 0
NORWICH: Ruddy, Martin, Yobo, Bassong, Olsson, Snodgrass, Howson, Tettey, Hoolahan (Redmond 89), Elmander (Johnson 87), van Wolfswinkel (Hooper 71). Subs not used: Bunn, Whittaker, Gutierrez, Becchio. Booked: Howson (47), Snodgrass (69).
SUNDERLAND: Mannone, Bardsley, O’Shea, Brown, Alonso, Bridcutt, Ki (Cattermole 40), Colback (Larsson 40), Johnson (Scocco 71), Borini, Altidore. Subs not used: Ustari, Celustka, Giaccherini, Vergini. Booked: Colback (37), Cattermole (43), Bridcutt (65), Alonso (77), Bardsley (81). Sent off: Alonso (90)
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