September 23 2014 Latest news:
Monday, November 5, 2012
On results like these seasons are defined. Norwich’s grimy win over Stoke will not linger long in the memory but it was every bit as beautiful as the previous Premier League home victory against Arsenal.
The Potters have plenty of detractors yet Tony Pulis has refined a style of play which perpetuates top flight longevity. For that he deserves respect.
Chris Hughton was right to point out pre-match no-one mentions them on the likely list of relegation candidates at the start of a fresh Premier League campaign. That might be a modest ambition if you are Arsene Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson, but it is one the Canaries strive to emulate.
Beating the Gunners was founded on an evolving, steely discipline. Arsenal enjoyed large spells of possession but their smooth passing rhythms failed to disrupt a home line up given renewed shape and ballast by the muscular presence of Alex Tettey and Bradley Johnson.
Stoke’s attritional brand of football was the acid test for City’s recent renaissance. Straight from the kick-off Dean Whitehead played the ball to the edge of the centre circle for Charlie Adam to launch a high punt towards Jonathan Walters stationed on Stoke’s right-flank. There was plenty more where that came from.
Peter Crouch roamed across Norwich’s backline with apparent impunity during the entire contest. The former England striker has ample ability with his feet but for sheer aerial awkwardness his presence ensured Norwich’s injury-hit defence had to prize vigilance above all other qualities.
Kenwyne Jones was introduced for the final quarter; a man who stooped to conquer with a powerful stoppage time header in last season’s corresponding fixture to salvage a draw that looked beyond the visitors. Not this time.
The barricades in front of John Ruddy were pummelled for prolonged spells as diagonal balls rained in from the flanks and full-back areas. Adam’s pedigree hints at a revision to Stoke’s successful model, but trailing to Bradley Johnson’s sublime back flick header in the final minute of the opening period the urge to regress proved irresistible.
No wonder Michael Owen is struggling to get a look in for his new club. Pulis seems to be grappling with managing a step change in Stoke’s collective approach without trying to discard the very pillars on which the club’s initial rise and then Premier League plateauing has been constructed.
Ruddy inevitably had to play his part. One sharp stop from Walters illustrated the surety of his positioning. Ditto when Jones leapt highest but failed to generate enough power to worry City’s number one. Jones failed to punish Norwich again in the closing stages when he gathered Ryan Bennett’s partial clearance to swivel and hit in one movement from no more than eight yards. The shot grazed the outside of Ruddy’s far post. At the time it felt like the signal for one final all out assault. In reality, the home side’s counter-attacking thrusts could have carried the day even more decisively.
Wes Hoolahan triggered a flowing move from the edge of his own penalty box that veered mesmerically via Tettey and Grant Holt before the skipper’s drilled cross to the far post was skied by Anthony Pilkington. The ambition was laudable; the degree of difficulty too fierce.
Hoolahan’s audacious lob from a yard inside the Stoke half just after the interval was a measure of the ebullient Irishman’s growing confidence. Asmir Begovic back-pedalled before opting to claw behind for a corner. Stoke’s energetic pressing game had largely limited Hoolahan’s imprint on the first half – save a wonderful clipped inside pass for Pilkington to test Begovic who kicked away from close range.
For once, Hoolahan was not the main story. The headlines were dominated by the dive that was and the dive that wasn’t – if you take Pulis’ skewered world view.
Separate touchline opinion and conjecture from the cold facts of each case and there were equal amounts of contact from Javier Garrido on Adam, which earned the Stoke midfielder a yellow card for simulation, as when Robert Snodgrass veered across Andy Wilkinson before hitting the deck. Wilkinson earned yellow; Snodgrass earned Norwich three points with a dipping free kick despatched by his old Leeds ally Johnson.
Pulis barked ferociously at the fourth official. A tentative half-time bid to approach referee Andre Marriner as the referee was escorted from the pitch was wisely aborted.
Adam’s theatrical collapse embellished the notion that contact had been minimal. In both instances the opposing left-backs were guilty of poor positioning that saw them caught the wrong side of their direct attacker. Stoke’s misfortune was to be found culpable on both counts.
Pulis was the first to acknowledge his side’s blunt endeavours in the final third carried far greater weight. If Walters, Jones or any of the other Staffordshire Oaks who rumbled forward in the fraught final phases had managed to capitalise on the time spent around the edge of Norwich’s 18-yard box, Adam’s antics would have proved a mere aside.
Norwich stood firm. Leon Barnett and Bennett bolstered a backline shorn of Michael Turner and Garrido through second half injury. Steven Whittaker underlined his value to Hughton’s squad with a seamless transition to the opposite flank on his Premier League debut.
The final whistle brought not only palpable relief but a sense this Norwich squad, even so early in the season, have navigated a route through choppy waters. Just as Hughton was quick not to panic in the wake of those chastening events at Fulham or Chelsea, you can be sure right now there will be no trace of complacency inside the Norwich camp.
City would have been breached by Stoke in the early weeks of Hughton’s reign; that endemic brittleness evident at Craven Cottage and Stamford Bridge has been singularly absent in recent games.
Stoke are held up as role model for aspirant clubs like Norwich City to emulate. Not in their style or the panache of their football but in their ability to survive and prosper; qualities the Canaries showed in abundance against Pulis’ men. But the tests will not get any easier.