Premier League

Lambert loved win over Liverpool

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Sun, 17 Mar 2013 15:32:00

Norwich held out for a point against struggling Sunderland despite the first-half dismissal of goalkeeper Mark Bunn in a 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light.

Wes Hoolahan had headed Norwich into the lead before Bunn saw red for handling outside his box, with Sunderland then levelling from the penalty spot before the break through Craig Gardner after Sebastien Bassong was adjudged to have handled.

Norwich broke the deadlock in the 26th minute after some dismal defending from Sunderland, as they allowed Kei Kamara a free header inside the six yard box from Robert Snodgrass' corner, with Hoolahan diverting the ball home from virtually on the goalline.

The tension inside the stadium increased as the Black Cats fell behind, but just four minutes later the visitors were reduced to 10 men when Bunn raced from his area to deny Danny Graham after Michael Turner's poor back-header, with the ball striking his chest and arm.

Referee Chris Foy had no hesitation despite Bunn's furious protests and those of his team-mates, with replays showing the official made the right call, with Lee Camp coming on for the Canaries and goalscorer Hoolahan the outfield player to be sacrificed.

Camp was then rooted to the spot as Gardner's resulting free-kick whistled inches wide of the post, but he could do nothing about Sunderland's equaliser in the 40th minute, with Norwich again left infuriated by the decision-making of the officials.

John O'Shea's hopeful ball into the box struck the chest of Bassong and rolled down his outstretched left arm, with Foy acting on the advice of his assistant who had a perfect view. Gardner showed great composure to find the top corner from 12 yards to level the scores.

Sunderland twice came close to taking the lead before the break as Graham skewed wide after Camp had pushed away Sebastian Larsson's pile-driver, before Danny Rose struck the outside of the post via a deflection off Turner with the last kick of the half.

Sunderland were on the front foot immediately in the second half, with Stephane Sessegnon given a free role and Gardner very advanced on the right, and the latter warmed Camp's fingers in the 59th minute with a stinging drive after being set up by Fletcher, while Mignolet had to be alert to clear from outside the box with Kamara bearing down on goal.

Norwich then had reason to feel aggrieved with Rose penalised for handball, with replays showing he was clearly inside the area, rather than outside as Russell Martin's cross struck his arm, but Foy gave a free-kick on the line.

Substitute Grant Holt had a great chance to give the visitors the lead when substitute Titus Bramble completely misjudged a long ball forward, but the striker's first touch was far too heavy and allowed Mignolet to gather, with the Canaries captain booked for lunging in on the keeper.

Despite their numerical advantage, Sunderland failed to test Camp with any regularity, with Sessegnon hooking a good chance wide late on, and Martin O'Neill's men have now taken just three points from seven games with fixtures against Manchester United, Chelsea and Newcastle on the horizon.

Sunderland boss O'Neill admitted after the final whistle that fortune may have favoured his side on this occasion, but insisted they have had decisions go against them in the past.

He told Sky Sports: "Not that we deserved much luck today, but there have been about seven penalty decisions which have gone against us in recent times.

"So perhaps that little bit of luck that we may not have deserved may have been due in our direction."

Norwich counterpart Chris Hughton preferred to praise the performance of his players, rather than criticise referee Foy and his assistants.

He told Sky Sports: "Of course, everybody will speak about the three big decisions, but I owe it to this group of lads to praise them for the quality of their performance.

"I don't think there would be anybody in this stadium who would think we didn't deserve to get at least a point."

The Potters went into the Albion contest off the back of three straight defeats and having suffered a total of seven losses in their last nine top-flight fixtures.

The discontent among Stoke supporters had been clear from the boos that came from the stands at the previous home match, a 1-0 defeat to West Ham on March 2.

Pulis has stressed the importance of the crowd - even if they are criticising him - giving their backing to the players, and was delighted with the level of support yesterday.

Pulis, whose team moved up to 10th, said: "We played very well at Newcastle last week (in a 2-1 defeat) and two outstanding goals cost us the game, which was disappointing.

"But I thought the response from the crowd was brilliant (in the West Brom match).

"There has been a lot of people moaning and groaning, or so I have been told, but they turned up and right from the first whistle to the last there was a very positive feeling around the ground, and that was very good for the players.

"It has been seven years that we have been pushing on, and you get good times and you get bad times.

"What you need when things are not going very well is people to support you and get behind you, and they were fantastic on the terraces."

Those who were watching yesterday's match did not get much in the way of entertainment.

After West Brom captain Chris Brunt had a fifth-minute strike saved by Asmir Begovic in a fairly bright start for the visitors, Stoke were the better side for the remainder of the first half.

But they struggled to create any real clear-cut opportunities, with a deflected Jon Walters shot that spun wide being their closest attempt.

The standard improved slightly after the break, but neither side looked likely to break the deadlock as Baggies frontman Romelu Lukaku and Stoke's Peter Crouch failed to convert headers, before Potters substitute Kenwyne Jones passed up a good chance in stoppage time by prodding straight at Ben Foster.

Foster has returned to the England squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualifying double-header against San Marino and Montenegro, almost two years after making himself unavailable for national team selection.

And although the goalkeeper was largely untroubled yesterday, West Brom boss Steve Clarke felt he performed well in a good all-round defensive display from his side, who are eighth in the table.

"After Ben came back (in December) from the second groin operation he had, it took him three or four weeks to get himself up to speed, but I think since then his performances have been top-level," Clarke said.

"He has made himself available for England, which can only be good news for them.

"In difficult conditions, particularly in the last 15 minutes when I think somebody was trying to tell us something, his handling was excellent. But the team in front of him defended well.

"I think he is another key element of a good defensive unit.

"I thought the four defenders were outstanding, Claudio Yacob in front of them gave good cover and the more attacking players did their jobs defensively."

Asked if he considered Foster to be a genuine challenger to England's first-choice goalkeeper Joe Hart, rather than just a back-up, Clarke said: "That is for (England head coach) Roy Hodgson for decide - all Ben can do is what he has done.

"He made himself available and he is a really good goalkeeper. It is good for England that they have good competition for places."

Clarke confirmed that Albion midfielder Graham Dorrans, missing from the squad yesterday, had sustained a calf strain but said he expected him to still link up with the Scotland squad.

Clarke said: "I wouldn't expect him to be involved in the first game (against Wales on Friday), but I think he has an outside chance of being involved in Scotland's second game (in Serbia the following Tuesday), which means he should be available for us at West Ham (on March 30)."

Meanwhile, Pulis revealed that Stoke's Republic of Ireland midfielder Glenn Whelan had had to come off at half-time due to an ankle injury.

The Premier League leaders got off to a perfect start when Kris Commons fired them ahead with around 12 seconds or so gone.

However, in similar fashion to last week's 3-2 defeat at Ross County when they surrendered a two-goal lead, Celtic threw their initial advantage away.

Dons striker Scott Vernon levelled with a minute of the first half remaining after Hoops defender Kelvin Wilson was robbed in the box by Josh Magennis, who then grabbed a double for himself after the break with the home defence in some disarray.

The champions rolled up their sleeves though, and Charlie Mulgrew reduced the deficit before Gary Hooper levelled with three minute remaining, leaving Samaras, who had replaced Beram Kayal, to hook in a marvellous winner with seconds left of added time.

While Celtic are 15 points clear of Motherwell at the top of the table after the 4-3 win, Lennon is aware that his side have lost 29 goals in 31 SPL matches this season.

"I expect the quality players we have to eradicate those mistakes quickly," he said.

"We can't keep conceding goals and expect us to go and score three and four at the other end.

"So, considering the last two seasons defensively in the league when we were very good - I think we lost 21 and 22 goals - we are not as good this season.

"Maybe that's because we have lost some experienced centre-halves in (Glenn) Loovens and (Daniel) Majstorovic, but it is an area that we will look to improve on between now and the end of the season.

"I don't detect a lack of confidence but they are not playing to the levels that they can do.

"I don't know the reasons why, just a few of them are off colour.

"We gave a goal away that sometimes you can't legislate for and I thought the second goal was poor as well, we should have done better with that.

"The third goal was a great shot and a deflection so you can't do anything about that, so what you want is to see if you can dig yourselves out of it and some players dug some other players out.

"But to be fair, over the course of the season, those players who were maybe a little bit off colour yesterday have been fantastic for us."

Magennis was moved from defence into his preferred attacking role by Aberdeen boss Craig Brown, and he put in an impressive performance.

"I think I did all right at right-back, it just depends where the gaffer wants me," Magennis said.

"Hopefully after yesterday he will have faith in me and play me up front more often."

The 31-year-old saw his first-half free-kick deflect in off Daniel Sturridge to put relegation-threatened Saints on course for an invaluable victory at St Mary's on Saturday.

Lambert's 13 goals makes him the top English scorer in the Premier League this season and has led to talk of a call-up to Roy Hodgson's national team.

It is a far cry from the beetroot factory he worked in little over a decade ago and the years spent plying his trade in the lower leagues.

"I am still pinching myself," Lambert said. "I am really enjoying the season.

"Obviously there have been some lows but the highs have been unbelievable and I am confident there are plenty more to come in my career, hopefully at Southampton.

"It is going really well but we're still not safe, there are still points to be taken, but the lads are absolutely buzzing after that result.

"I think everybody knows the relationship I have with Liverpool.

"It was a massive game and my family were there, but obviously I am professional and my main focus was to try and get three points.

"I am just over the moon that my goal helped get three points."

It is a victory that gives Southampton a seven-point cushion over the drop zone ahead of Sunday's fixtures.

"It was massively important that we got the three points," Lambert said.

"I think we have been unlucky these last few weeks and deserved a few more points than what we've got.

"But I don't really like saying that, I am just happy to say we got the three points.

"You can say all day that you're unlucky and that, but it is the points that matter and we managed to get the points along with a great performance, which is even better."

The defeat of Liverpool was a relief for Southampton as all too often their performances have not been rewarded with points.

Saints have been praised for the high pressing game employed since Mauricio Pochettino replaced Nigel Adkins, although Saturday was just his second win in eight matches at the helm.

"As long as we perform like that for him, he is fine no matter what the result is," Lambert said of the Argentinian.

"When we're not following what he is trying to say, that is when he gets frustrated.

"I think we've done well the last few games and been a little unlucky, but we have now managed to get the three points."

Lambert was also quick to praise fellow frontman Jay Rodriguez, who provided the assist for Morgan Schneiderlin's opener and made sure of victory by scoring 10 minutes from time.

The former Burnley man has not enjoyed the easiest of times since his ?6million move from Burnley but was inspired form against Liverpool, putting in his best performance in a Saints shirt.

"I think Jay is a terrific player," Lambert said. "I think striker is his best position and when we have played in that position together we've damaged sides.

"It was good to see him get that terrific goal at the end. I was absolutely over the moon for him."

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