Sunderland insisted they could have done no more to hold on to Alex Neil after Norwich inflicted their first home defeat since February at the meeting of the freshly departed Scottish former clubs.
Neil will be named Stoke City’s new manager after retiring from the squad on Friday. A clause in the 41-year-old’s ongoing 12-month contract allowed him to talk to potential new employers, with the lure of a move to the Black Cats’ Championship rivals, in addition to doubling his salary, which ultimately proved impossible to reject.
On what turned out to be a fraught Friday at Wearside, Sunderland hastily offered Neil a second raise since he led the club to promotion in May. Asked if more could have been done to keep his services, sporting director Kristjaan Speakman said: “I don’t believe it. We had a very well structured contract from the moment we moved into the championship with the right raises.
“We had a discussion in the summer because we wanted to reward him and give him a ‘well done’. That contract was re-signed and was only signed four weeks ago. On yesterday’s news, of course for us we want to keep that coach who We have taken a further step to offer another set of conditions, but unfortunately it seems that this will not be enough for him to stay.”
With Sean Dyche seemingly over their modest budget, Sunderland could turn to Teesside-based Tony Mowbray, a visitor who has already been at the Stadium of Light this season and worked with player recruitment club head Stuart Harvey in Blackburn for his departure from Blackburn. Ewood Park three months ago.
Speakman added: “Talks are underway and I’m sure the club will inform supporters in due course if that information changes and we will be transparent with supporters once this is all settled.”
Norwich were far from their best, but a dogged display to secure a third straight win – their first on the road in the competition since January – is the kind of result promotion campaigns are built on as they try to get back to the Premier League at the first attempt for the third consecutive time.
They climbed into the top six after Dean Smith was rewarded for a daring triple substitution on the hour, one of those substitutions Aaron Ramsey provided the low cross from close range with 14 minutes to go through Josh Sargent, the American forward’s fourth goal in the last three games.
“That’s probably the worst we’ve played without a ball this season,” said Smith. “It was hard work to master Sunderland, but the subs changed things and we showed a bit of quality with purpose.”
These sides were two divisions apart last season, but for the most part from an error-ridden match that was hard to distinguish. Sunderland hit the frame of Tim Krul’s goal twice and found former Newcastle defender Grant Hanley’s sizeable frame in the way of two goal-bound attempts at either side of half time.
“It’s frustrating because on another day we score two or three goals,” said Corry Evans, the Sunderland skipper. “Overall, I think with everything that’s happened, we can be proud of that achievement.”
Sunderland: Patterson, O’Nien, Batth, Cirkin, Gooch, Evans, Neil, Clarke, Pritchard, Stewart, Simms.
Subscribers: Embleton, Roberts, Bass, Diamond, Wright, Hume, Alese.
Norwich: Krul, Aarons, Omobamidele, Hanley, McLean, Dowell, Gibbs, Nunez, Sinani, Sargent, Hernandez.
Subscribers: Byram, Gibson, Cantwell, Gabriel Sara, Ramsey, Pukki, Gunn.
Referee: Tim Robinson (West Sussex)