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Monday, November 5, 2012
The manager was very grateful for a home victory secured by the only goal of the game, even if the award that led up to the winner was a controversial one.
“I haven’t seen the incident for the goal, but if that is right and we got a little bit of luck, then I think we have deserved it with our overall performance,” he said.
It might easily have been Chris Hughton, reacting to Norwich City’s second successive 1-0 Premier League home win, at the expense of Stoke City, but it was not.
It was Stoke boss Tony Pulis, back in March, after Matthew Etherington scored the only goal against the Canaries at the Britannia Stadium from a throw-in that should have been given the other way.
On that occasion, Pulis justified the error by referee Michael Oliver on the grounds that Stoke were the better side and were therefore entitled to the stroke of fortune that helped them secure three points. It could, one might add, have been argued that Norwich should not have switched off from the throw-in.
The boot was on the other foot at Carrow Road on Saturday, however, when the Canaries benefited from a debatable decision – the award of the free-kick from which Bradley Johnson headed his first goal for more than 12 months to settle a hard-fought but hardly classic encounter.
In this instance, Pulis was not quite so philosophical about the way the wheel of fortune operates in football, and hotly contested the verdict of match official Andre Marriner, which was that Stoke defender Andy Wilkinson had fouled City forward Robert Snodgrass.
Pulis may well have been right, but it was not as if the Canaries had been handed a matchwinning penalty, merely a free kick wide on the right – and he chose to overlook the poor marking by his own defenders that enabled Johnson to head his 44th-minute winner as Snodgrass floated the ball into the danger area.
Hughton neither justified nor criticised Mr Marriner’s award, but did politely suggest that the referee and his assistant were better positioned to judge Wilkinson’s challenge than anyone standing on the opposite side of the pitch.
He might also have pointed to the fact that the Canaries had earned their victory by matching their opponents in the physical battle and working tirelessly to overcome the loss of two of their back four through injury in the second half.
It was not a victory in the same style as their success against Arsenal a fortnight ago, nor as dramatic as the late Capital One Cup triumph over Tottenham just three days earlier, but in its own way it was just as satisfying and potentially just as important.
After a low-key opening quarter, the Canaries might have gone ahead on 23 minutes when Wes Hoolahan worked a neat exchange of passes with Anthony Pilkington but the winger’s low drive was blocked by the legs of goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.
Pilkington and Stoke’s Charlie Adam – booked for a dive when he appeared to be shoved in the back by Javier Garrido – brought the respective ’keepers into action but it was a subdued affair until one minute before the break, when Johnson opened his account for the season.
Wilkinson was shown the yellow card for a barely perceptible shove on Snodgrass, whose well-flighted free-kick was met by Johnson with a neat backheader that looped perfectly out of reach of Begovic into the top corner.
It could have been 2-0 in first-half stoppage time when Garrido and Pilkington combined well and Pilkington’s cross whistled across the six-yard box with Snodgrass unable to apply the finishing touch.
At the restart, Hoolahan’s effort from almost the halfway line raised a cheer, but seven minutes into the second period, Stoke might have levelled as Peter Crouch and Adam flicked the ball on for Jon Walters to jab it goalwards, but City ’keeper John Ruddy made a fine save.
Defender Michael Turner departed with an injury after slipping in attempting to deny Walters, then Garrido’s exit with what looked like a knee problem meant it was all hands on deck for the Canaries.
They survived, however, largely because Stoke substitute Kenwyne Jones – scorer of a stoppage-time equaliser in the same fixture last season – squandered the best chances, heading straight at Ruddy from Adam’s free-kick before a more glaring miss after 77 minutes, latching on to a header by Ryan Bennett but firing inches wide.