A good win win for Sunderland at home in a match they dominated right from the start. Norwich never really asserted any offensive control on the game and couldn't penetrate Sunderland well enough.
Sunderland started with a 4-2-3-1 formation with Sessegnon playing near Fraizer Campbell up front. Norwich started with their diamond midfield with Hoolahan playing as an attacking midfielder behind Holt and Morison.
The game started scrappily with both teams looking long to their forwards in the air and play was generally not very cohesive. However after a few minutes Sunderland started to assert their control.
One of the things to take into account when facing a narrow diamond formation in midfield is that you can create a 2v1 situation in the wide positions. The first chance of the game came through this, after Richardson and McClean combined on Sunderland's left and played in a cross for Campbell who managed to get an early heading opportunity which went wide. From here on, Norwich struggled in the wide areas with McClean's directness a threat early on and when Sunderland switched from one flank to another, it opened Norwich up down the centre.
Sunderland's two holding players, Colback and Gardner were controlling the midfield area and acting as reference points for Sunderland in attack. With Sessegnon coming to receive the ball to feet and also combining out wide the home side dominated the play and after 19 minutes had had 62% of the possession.
Norwich were severely lacking width in depth when on the attack and on a number of occasions were playing high balls from deep, fairly central positions to try and create openings for Holt and Morison in the penalty area. This created one chance with Morison heading it on for Holt's run behind, who tested the goalkeeper out with Richardson at left back playing him onside.
However Norwich in general were struggling in attack and their play was very 'broken down'. Sessegnon and Campbell were playing fairly close to their midfielders initially when pressing while Norwich's full backs were being pressed well by McClean and Larsson. Because of this, their full backs struggled to move forward and provide width with no wide men being played futher forward because of their diamond formation. When the ball then got played back to the centre backs, Sessegnon and Campbell pressed them well meaning there was very little central penetration. Sunderland were also doing a very good job of staying compact down the centre against Norwich's diamond and this meant that the away side were forced to knock it long for Morison in the air with Holt making diagonal runs behind for the flick on.
Campbell's great strike from outside the area gave Sunderland their first goal after they reacted first to the quick throw and took advantage of a lack of ball pressure from Norwich.
Sunderland's second goal came from a quick incisive counter attack with Sessegnon collecting the ball and turning to run at the defence. With him beating Johnson in midfield, Naughton came across to the centre to close down, leaving space for Campbell on the right. He put in a great ball, with Gardner dragging Ayala away and Sessegnon taking advantage of the space Martin should have been covering, with the right back bizarrely not reacting when the ball was crossed in.
Norwich were very laboured in possession even with Sunderland now sat slightly deeper. Colback and Gardner were keeping control of the space between the lines for Hoolahan who was starting and would continue in the second half to try and move to wider positions to be able to receive the ball because of Sunderland's compact organisation.
by Guardian Chalkboards
(Chalkboard showing where Hoolahan was having to go to recieve the ball to feet)
Sunderland were concentrating more on quick, incisive counter attacks now, sitting deeper and making sure Norwich couldn't penetrate down the middle. Norwich weren't enticing any players out of position and there was still very little width in depth to penetrate in attack.
Sunderland managed to get their third goal, with Norwich again lacking ball pressure and Sunderland finding space behind on the right hand side for Bardsley to exploit and Ayala scored an own goal at the near post.
Naughton, as shown from the second goal, was prone to coming too far inside to close down and Larsson and Campbell were using their pace well to exploit these spaces with diagonal runs, creating another chance with a ball across to the far post where a fourth goal should have been added.
Lambert took off Hoolahan and Johnson just over 15 minutes into the second half with Bennett and Pilkington replacing them and Norwich moved to a 4-4-2 system with Surman and Crofts in the middle. This gave Norwich better width in attack and Pilkington created a chance not long after coming on, making a run behind Bardsley and getting a good cross in for Morison in the air.
Sunderland at this stage were still working very hard and defending from the front. Norwich were struggling to play vertical passes to players between the lines and were also struggling to get past the 'first line of pressing'. They didn't take advantage of their added width, with long diagonal passes having to be played from deep to play them in, instead of a more precise and 'angled' build up. Often though it was knocked long for one of the forwards to get behind with a diagonal run or challenge in the air and with Sunderland winning many of the 'second balls' this approach didn't work either.
In the end Sunderland slowed the tempo down and comfortably saw the game out ending with a deserved clean sheet and three points. A good win for O'Neill's team who looked compact, organised and who attacked with good pace and movement for the entire game.