City boss Chris Hughton tonight paid tribute to another huge shift on the road to Premier League survival as a ten-man Norwich City dug another big point out on their travels – this time via a 1-1 draw at Martin O’Neill’s flat-lining Sunderland.
For 55 minutes, the visitors were left with just ten men on the pitch after keeper Mark Bunn was dismissed for handball outside his box – one of three, big decisions that referee Chris Foy would make on a day that left City seven points clear of the drop zone.
Wigan’s late victory over an equally under-performing Newcastle side will keep everyone in that mid-table gaggle looking over the shoulder for a few weeks longer.
But on this evidence, Norwich will not be lacking in spirit and character as the final run-in unfolds.
They still remain just two wins short of the proverbial, 40-point finishing line and any point earned away from home between now and the end of the season can only be viewed as a big, big bonus – particularly in the circumstance of today’s long trip to the North-East where Miss Fortune smiled all-too regularly on the visitors.
“The disappointing thing for me was that with 11 men we would have given them a real, good game,” rued Hughton afterwards.
Even with ten, City could have gone on and prised all three points out of a largely lifeless Sunderland side had second-half substitute Grant Holt converted his one-on-one chance.
As it was, it was the ‘Rock of Bassong’ and the equally obdurate Michael Turner alongside him that saw Norwich finish the contest unbeaten as Lee Camp made his second City debut – on in place of the unfortunate Bunn.
“We had to defend well during the game – at times they had four up there,” said Hughton, with Wes Hoolahan’s simplest of finishes following good work from Kei Kamara giving City an early advantage.
Right up until the moment that Foy and his assistants ruled a handball against Bassong and allowed Craig Gardner to convert from the penalty spot.
“If we’d just been a little bit cuter at times we might have come away from here – with ten men – with three points,” said Hughton, with both Newcastle and Sunderland being among this weekend’s biggest ‘losers’ momentum-wise.
The North-East pair appear stuck fast in the bottom third. And whilst City might not be ripping up any trees in terms of results, they are still sticking firm to Paul Lambert’s old adage – that if you can’t win a game, just make damn sure you don’t lose it.
As for the three decisions, Hughton was ever the diplomat. If the two handballs in the Canary box were ‘inconclusive’ on his first glance, it was handball against Sunderland’s Danny Rose that riled him the most.
“That was clearly the right decision, but it is clearly – clearly – inside the box,” said Hughton, luck in short supply at The Stadium Of Light.
“It’s been one of those days for us today. But given everything that has gone, the main focus should be on the job that these ten men have done,” added the City chief, speaking to the BBC afterwards.
He was, he admitted, keeping a firm eye on that 40-point mark – now just six points distant with 18 points still up for grabs.
“I think the 40 points is a good marker – a good target,” he said – a mark that is already looking beyond both Reading and QPR. They both look as if they need snookers on the back of this weekend’s big wins for Southampton, Aston Villa and Wigan.
“I think people have felt that it might be less than that one [40 points]. But any time you start thinking that way, then there is something that is going to smack you in the face.
“So, yes, that’s the point that appears [to be recognised] over a number of years, but for us its about trying to accumulate as many points as possible.”