IT’S NOT just Sunderland who have been looking for a January boost with a new signing.
The transfer window brings out the scouts and managers eager to find a fresh face to boost their prospects at either end of the table – several lined the touchline at the Academy of Light this afternoon, even in the freezing temperatures.
Charis Mavrias was the obvious headline attraction for any potential loan deals, with Mikael Mandron the only other player on show for Sunderland Under-21s with first-team experience to his name.
Yet the Greek winger didn’t make the most of his pace in front of the watching Gus Poyet, despite repeatedly getting into dangerous positions. Still that final ball or final decision eludes him.
He desperately needs to continue his footballing education with regular football elsewhere, even if it’s only on loan.
The stand-out figure for Sunderland – in a game where the hosts failed to make the most of their chances, including a missed penalty – was George Honeyman in the number 10 role.
Honeyman was full of ideas and movement; finding space, making intelligent passes and running with purpose at the Norwich defence.
“George has not had great injuries this season, some that can be persistent,” said development coach Robbie Stockdale.
“He’s benefited from the games before Christmas, and we were pleased he came through them unscathed.
“But on a heavy pitch, I thought he was very good and was one of three or four that the Norwich players couldn’t get near.”
Sunderland spurned the chance to grab an early lead from the penalty spot after Carl Lawson was unsubtly shoved by Norwich winger Keshi Anderson just inside the area.
Martin Smith stepped up, but smashed his effort against the underside of the bar, before Lawson headed the rebound over the top.
But there was little in terms of clear-cut opportunities in the remainder of the half, although Honeyman fired a powerful shot straight at Norwich keeper Declan Rudd on the stroke of half-time from Mandron’s clever reverse pass.
Norwich winger Reiss Awuah forced Sunderland keeper Maksymilian Stryjek into a smart save at his near post early in the second half, before the Black Cats were denied by the woodwork at the other end.
Mandron brought the ball under control before laying it off to Lawson, whose shot from just inside the area clipped the outside of the post.
Mavrias should have broken the deadlock in the 63rd minute though after Andrew Cartwright’s cross from the right found its way all the way through to the Greek international on the far left of the area.
The 20-year-old cut inside, but with the goal at his mercy from eight yards out, he scuffed a poor shot wide of the near post.
Moments later, Honeyman slalomed down the right-hand side of the area on an excellent individual run before firing a powerful right-footed shot which was turned away well by Rudd.
Sunderland were beginning to turn up the heat though, with Mavrias threading Lawson with a well-weighted slide rule pass down the right-hand side of the area, which the forward fired low at goal, only for Rudd to save smartly again.
Against the run of play, Norwich almost snatched it with three minutes to go when Cameron Norman’s dipping free-kick from 25 yards curled inches wide.
There was one last-gasp opportunity for Sunderland when Martin Smith played a one-two with Mandron and burst onto the return ball, eight yards out, but his shot was deflected just wide with Rudd beaten.
“It was an incredible game really,” added Stockdale.
“We dominated from start to finish and to be honest I thought we were magnificent in difficult circumstances.
“Our play was superb from front to back, but we just lacked that clinical edge.
“I think that’s the hardest bit. As a full-back, I didn’t get paid very much, but I played with some centre-forwards who did, and that’s why.
“If we had come off the pitch winning four or five, I don’t think anyone would have complained.
“But if we weren’t creating chances, it would be worse.”
SUNDERLAND: Stryjek, Cartwright, Robson, Agnew, Trialist, Beadling, Mavrias (Greenwood 80), Smith, Mandron, Honeyman, Lawson. Subs not used: Sukar, Burke, McEvoy, McNamee. Booked: Honeyman (32)
NORWICH: Rudd, Hall-Johnson, Moseley (Grant 80), Kelly, McFadden, Gafiati, Norman, McGrandles, Murphy, Anderson (Ramsey 71), Awuah (Efete 52). Subs not used: Beauchamp, Ramsey, Fox. Booked: Murphy (32)