NORWICH, England ● Sunderland grabbed a priceless lifeline in the fight for Premier League survival as goals from Fabio Borini and Jermain Defoe inspired a 3-0 win over relegation rivals Norwich on Saturday.
Sam Allardyce’s side would have been on the brink of crashing into the Championship if they had lost at Carrow Road, but Borini’s first half penalty and strikes from Defoe and Duncan Watmore after the interval significantly improved their hopes of staying up.
Sunderland remain in the relegation zone after their first win in seven matches, but they are now only one point behind fourth bottom Norwich with a game in hand.
Allardyce has never been relegated from the top-flight and he could be on course to mastermind another great escape to emulate Sunderland’s last-ditch revival under Dick Advocaat 12 months ago.
For Norwich, it was further setback to their survival bid after last weekend’s loss at Crystal Palace and they face a nervous last four matches as the relegation struggle goes to the wire.
Norwich’s failure to avoid defeat also meant Aston Villa were given a stay of execution, although the bottom club would be relegated if they fail to win at Manchester United later on Saturday.
After unexpectedly meeting in the 1985 League Cup final, these two clubs had established such a rapport that matches between them are now played for the ‘Friendship Trophy’.
Allardyce was unaware of the curious alliance until it was pointed out in the build-up this week but, with so much at stake, it wasn’t long before the relationship was put to the test as tempers frayed.
Robbie Brady sparked the flashpoint when the Norwich winger needlessly shoved Sunderland’s DeAndre Yedlin into the advertising boards right in front of the visitors’ bench.
Brady was confronted by a member of Sunderland’s coaching staff and Allardyce wasn’t far behind as he angrily pushed away Norwich’s Cameron Jerome while players from both sides joined the shoving match.
When the furore had died down, Dieumerci Mbokani rose to above Younes Kaboul to meet Brady’s cross, but the Norwich forward’s header was straight at Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone.
Sunderland threatened when Jan Kirchhoff flicked a free-kick into the path of Fabio Borini, but the Italy striker’s cross-shot flashed just past John Ruddy’s far post.
As Norwich began to dominate, Mannone alertly kept out Kaboul’s deflected attempt to clear a Brady cross before brilliantly tipping over Martin Olsson’s long-range effort.
Mannone’s heroics had kept Sunderland afloat and Allardyce’s men took full advantage four minutes before half-time.
Defoe picked out Borini in the penalty area and when he cut back inside to attack Andre Wisdom, the Norwich defender got the slightest touch on the ball before following through to catch the Italian with an ugly tackle that convinced referee Andre Marriner to point to the spot.
Norwich’s furious players surrounded Marriner to protest, but Borini ignored the fuss as he calmly slotted the penalty low to Ruddy’s right for only his fourth goal of the season.
Neil sent on Nathan Redmond at half-time and the Norwich winger nearly had an instant impact with a skidding shot that struck the outside of a post.
But it was Sunderland who struck again in the 53rd minute.
Norwich defender Sebastien Bassong was nudged off the ball by Kirchhoff far too easily inside his own half and Borini whipped over a sublime cross that Defoe met with a typically predatory sliding finish at the far post.
The Canaries laid seige to Sunderland’s goal in the closing stages without success as Lee Cattermole cleared off the line from Mbokani and then Wes Hoolahan.
Watmore rubbed salt in Norwich wounds in stoppage-time when he took Seb Larsson’s pass and clipped a near post finish past Ruddy.
Newcastle United 3, Swansea 0
January signing Andros Townsend turned in a man of the match display to hand birthday boy Rafael Benitez his first win as Newcastle grabbed a Barclays Premier League lifeline.
Townsend, a £12million January signing from Tottenham, set up Jamaal Lascelles and skipper Moussa Sissoko either side of the break and then added a third himself with a minute remaining as the Magpies secured a first victory since February 6 to keep alive their hopes of avoiding the drop.
Swansea gave as good as they got for long periods in the game, but could do nothing to prevent Benitez’s men from collecting a first win in April since 2013 and send home the locals among a crowd of 48,949 with hope.
Everton 1, Southampton 1
Everton’s problems at Goodison Park continued as their inability to hold onto a lead cost them a much-needed home win ahead of a pivotal week and led to one disgruntled fan confronting Roberto Martinez on the pitch following a 1-1 draw with Southampton.
Defender Ramiro Funes Mori went from hero to villain in the space of eight second-half minutes as his missed tackle allowed Saints striker Sadio Mane to cancel out his earlier goal.
Discontent at their underachievement has been growing on the blue half of Merseyside in recent weeks with Martinez the target of increasing criticism.
West Brom 0, Watford 1
Heurelho Gomes was Watford’s hero as he saved two second-half penalties in a 1-0 win at West Brom.
Gomes had been in fine form all afternoon, producing smart saves to twice thwart Stephane Sessegnon in the first half and acrobatically deny Gareth McAluey shortly after half-time.
But the Brazilian saved his best work to torment Saido Berahino. First he made amends for his own error by diving to his right to beat away the West Brom striker’s first penalty after 67 minutes and then repeated the feat 20 minutes later, launching himself the other way to palm away the spot-kick.
His heroics ensured that Ben Watson’s 27th-minute goal would be enough for Watford to earn all three points and record only a third victory in their last 16 Barclays Premier League outings.