A BELOW-par City were outshone by a dominant Sunderland who ran out 3-0 winners at the Stadium of Light as the Canaries suffered their first defeat of 2012.
The hosts got into their running early with key performances from Frazier Campbell and Stephane Sessegnon who powered them into a 2-0 lead before half-time - a fine individual goal by Campbell before his assist for the Benin striker to head home.
City were unable to find a response against Martin O'Neill's side and any faint hope of a Canary comeback was shortlived when after only nine minutes of the second half Phil Bardsley's effort was deflected into his own net by Daniel Ayala to make it 3-0.
After the game Paul Lambert commented: "We were second best for the whole game and if I'm honest we were beaten by the better side tonight.
"The first goal was a quality strike and there's nothing you can do about those, but the second and third goals were disappointing from our point of view. But saying that those lads have done fantastically well for us so I'm sure we will put that performance to bed and look to come back on Saturday."
Lambert had made another five changes to his side as they looked to return to Barclays Premier League action at the Stadium of Light against Sunderland.
Returning to the starting line-up were John Ruddy, Bradley Johnson, Steve Morison, Andrew Surman and Kyle Naughton, with Steer, Pilkington, Fox and Bennett dropping to the bench. Adam Drury was absent from the final 18, with Elliott Ward named as a substitute for the first time this season having missed the season so far with a knee injury.
Sunderland had some noteable absentees including their captain Lee Cattermole and summer signing David Vaughan missing through injury. However, they would look to pose a threat through Larsson and Sessegnon. Kieran Richardson also started, the scorer of the Black Cat's consolation goal against the Canaries back in September where City ran out 2-1 winners at Carrow Road.
City kicked the game off in the green and white of their Errea away kit on a cold winter's north-east night.
Sunderland were awarded a free-kick after three minutes after Andrew Crofts clipped the heels of McClean. Larsson stepped up far left and hit a curling effort, which Ruddy got down well to gather. City's number one was then called upon again just moments later to parry Fraizer Campbell's shot, which was then cleared away from danger.
The hosts were making the early running and on seven minutes Sessegnon found Larsson in the box with a good low ball, but thankfully the Swede dragged his shot wide of the post.
Larsson was given another set-piece opportunity 11 minutes in, this time far right, but the City defence held firm and the visitors then had their best chance of the game so far. Firstly Grant Holt had a shot saved by Mignolet, then Morison's effort from the rebound was well blocked and although the ball fell kindly for Andrew Surman he could only direct his shot wide of the Sunderland goal.
Referee Lee Mason issued the first yellow card of the game to Sunderland midfielder Craig Gardner for a late challenge on Zak Whitbread, as the City defender came out to clear his lines.
But the first breakthrough came on 21 minutes with a brilliantly well-struck dipping effort by Fraizer Campbell from outside the area, which gave John Ruddy no chance and gave Sunderland a 1-0 lead.
A Bradley Johnson free-kick two minutes later saw Whitbread rise high at the far post but his header was well-wide and failed to trouble Mignolet.
It then got worse when a Canary attack was broken up by the Sunderland midfield ,who then made a break of their own and this time Campbell turned provider, finding space on the right and delivering a cross for Stephane Sessegnon to head home for 2-0 after only 28 minutes.
The Black Cats were dominating the play and went close to a third with ten minutes of the half left, Campbell striking the base of the post but the asistant's flag was raised as he was deemed to be in an offside position.
With four minutes left the ball broke for Morison on the edge of the box but he couldn't quite dig himself out a shooting opportunity and although he managed to feed it out to Hoolahan the Irishman couldn't find the target and the ball went out for a goal-kick.
Half-time: Sunderland 2, Norwich City 0
The opening minutes of the second half saw a better passage of play from the visitors without any clear opening, but they were proving their own worst enemies, giving away possession in key areas, Gardner almost capitalising five minutes in Ruddy doing well to parry his shot out at the expense of a corner.
But unfortunately it was to be three after 54 minutes, Phil Bardsley bursting into the box on the right and putting a dangerous ball goalwards which ended in the back of the net through a number of bodies, the last touch looking to have come off Daniel Ayala.
Just before the hour another Canary move was broken down and Larsson powered down the right and with two attackers to one City defender it looked like the Swede's cross would end in another goal, but under pressure from Ayala, Campbell couldn't stretch his foot out enough to reach and the ball drifted out for a City throw-in far left.
On 62 minutes Paul Lambert made a double substitution in midfield Hoolahan and Johnson replaced by Elliott Bennett and Anthony Pilkington.
Pilkington's introduction led moments later to an opportunity for the Canaries - his cross headed inches wide by Morison.
But Sunderland remained a threat from distance, Gardner having a go this time, whizzing his effort just past the post.
Martin O'Neill made his first change of the game midway through the half - goalscorer Fraizer Campbell going off for Ji Dong-won.
City's final change came on 78 minutes when Grant Holt was replaced by Aaron Wilbraham.
With nine minutes remaining Sunderland made their final changes - Sessegnon and Richardson replaced by David Meyler and Wayne Bridge respectively. Bridge making his debut after his transfer deadline day move yesterday.
Pilkington created a shooting opportunity for Wilbraham on 86 minutes which the big striker took but Mignolet claimed comfortably.
In the final minute Zak Whitbread's header from an Andrew Surman flag-kick was deflected wide for another corner.
Kyle Naughton finished the game in Lee Mason's notebook after a late challenge on Ji Dong-won as the Korean looked to break down the left.
The final moments of the game ended without incident, Sunderland pleased with their night's efforts and City unable to break through a resolute Black Cat's defence.
Final score: Sunderland 3, Norwich City 0
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet, Bardsley, Turner, Larsson, Gardner, Campbell (Ji 73), Richardson (Bridge 81), Colback, O'Shea (c), McClean, Sessegnon (Meyler 81). Subs not used: Westwood, Elmohamady, Wickham, Lynch.
CITY: Ruddy, Martin, Johnson (Pilkington 62), Morison, Whitbread, Crofts, Holt (c) (Wiblraham 78), Surman, Hoolahan (Bennett 62), Naughton, Ayala. Subs not used: Steer, Jackson, Fox, Ward.