Sunderland will be tentatively looking over its shoulder in the relegation battle after two big decisions threatened to decide a 1-1 Premier League draw with 10-man Norwich City at the Stadium of Light.
The Canaries took the lead through a Wesley Hoolahan header from a corner in the 26th minute but had their goalkeeper Mark Bunn controversially sent off only three minutes later for a deliberate handball.
Minutes later, Sebastian Bassong was harshly penalized for a handball and Craig Gardner converted the penalty for the home side, despite Norwich’s protests. The Canaries held on for the draw, though, and forced Sunderland to remain lumped with Southampton and Aston Villa just above the drop zone.
Norwich started the game in 14thplace, two places above the hosts, and was the brighter team early on. Sunderland had the first real chance of the game, though, after five minutes, Danny Graham nodded down for Steven Fletcher, but Bunn rushed out to smother Sunderland’s top scorer.
After 26 minutes and a succession of early corners, Norwich took the lead through the recalled Wes Hoolahan. A Robert Snodgrass in-swinging corner found an unmarked Kei Kamara six yards out. The Sporting Kansas City loanee's header was flicked in on the line by the Irishman for his fourth league goal of the season.
Only three minutes later, the game swung. With Stephane Sessegnon lively in midfield for the Black Cats, a poor Michael Turner header back to goalkeeper Bunn was pressured by Danny Graham, forcing the Canaries goalkeeper into a handball outside of his area.
Referee Chris Foy adjudged this to be denying a goalscoring opportunity and sent Bunn off. The resulting free kick was hit straight at the Norwich wall but the decision turned the game in Sunderland’s favor.
Norwich substitute goalkeeper Lee Camp made his Premier League debut as he replaced Bunn, and Camp’s hope of a clean sheet was gone five minutes before half time. Bassong was adjudged to have handled inside the Norwich area in the 38th minute, the ball striking his arm after deflecting off this chest.
Gardner stepped up to convert the penalty and level the match. The hosts finished the half stronger, Sebastian Larsson forcing Camp into a good save, before Graham dragged the follow up wide.
The second half saw Sunderland in the ascendancy, with Norwich dropping deep but defending well. Turner and Bassong dealt with a succession of Sunderland crosses, and Gardner forced Camp to tip over from his close-range shot.
The big decision of the second half came after Danny Rose seemed to handle inside the Sunderland box but in a position similar to Bassong in the first half, only a free kick was given.
The visitors posed a threat on the break. Substitute Grant Holt should have scored after a long ball from Snodgrass, as Titus Bramble – on for the injured Carlos Cuellar – lost Holt, but the Norwich talisman mis-controlled and was denied by Simon Mignolet.
Martin O’Neill brought on James McClean and Connor Wickham in search of a winner, and Sessegnon should have claimed all three points for the Black Cats with three minutes to go. But the Beninese international dragged his shot wide from eight yards out, as the Norwich defense held firm to see out the draw.