Stoke City 3 Norwich City 1
21:39 13 January 2016
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Ten-man Norwich City crashed to a 3-1 Premier League defeat at Stoke City on Wednesday night after failing to overcome Gary O’Neil’s rash red card.
O’Neil chopped down Ibrahim Afellay from behind in the first half to leave Alex Neil’s men to play the remaining hour with a man less. Jonathan Walters nudged Stoke in front four minutes after the interval before Jonny Howson levelled with a stunning 20-yard strike but late goals from Joselu and a Ryan Bennett own goal condemned the Canaries to a battling loss.
Neil retained five of his starters from the FA Cup third round defeat to Manchester City on Saturday. Robbie Brady returned to the backline with Martin Olsson on the bench and Howson and Vadis Odjijda also retained their places.
Declan Rudd was restored to the Premier League line up with Wes Hoolahan and Dieumerci Mbokani among those also recalled.
Stoke’s line up contained one surprise omission, with Xherdan Shaqiri ruled out as a precaution with a hamstring concern.
Odjidja picked up the ball in a dangerous area inside the opening minutes but Robbie Brady’s cross was cut out by Glen Johnson.
Norwich’s early positive intent, with Brady well advanced in his left-back role, evoked memories of the manner they set about Sunderland on Wearside in their first league win on their return to the top flight.
But the Potters’ threat on the counter was evident in the seventh minute when Marko Arnautovic was superbly found by Joselu, who drilled an angled shot from 12 yards that Rudd palmed around his post.
The key, as so often to Norwich’s attacking productivity, hinged on Wes Hoolahan moving centre stage, but one promising break involving the Republic of Ireland international ended with his fellow Dubliner Brady clubbing an intended cross into the home terraces.
Hoolahan’s vision and weight of pass then crafted a ball for Odjidja which just cleared Erik Pieters but Ryan Shawcross headed his cross behind - Jack Butland punching the corner away.
The open feel to the early skirmishes perhaps underlined the confidence of both teams after recent Premier League success, with City intent on pressing the hosts high and preventing their centre backs from dictating the tempo.
Howson cut inside Johnson in the 16th minute, but his rising strike was a poor encore to his match-winner from similar distance at the Britannia back in 2013.
The speed of Stoke’s counter-attacks was the most impressive feature of Mark Hughes’ side in the opening quarter with Jonathan Walters only denied a clear chance by the close attentions of Brady at Rudd’s near post from another lightening break.
Howson out-muscled Johnson in front of the dugouts but Odjidja’s intended lob for Mbokani drifted out of play.
Norwich were unquestionably enjoying a greater share of possession and territory, with Howson a prominent figure, but there was a sloppiness in the Canaries’ final decision or pass hindering much of their good work.
Joselu ran off the back of Ryan Bennett but guided his first time effort wide. Hoolahan then tried to embarrass Butland, when his miscued clearance dropped to the Irishman who clipped a 35-yard effort wide as the England man scrambled back into goal.
Butland redeemed himself to beat out Bennett’s goalbound shot from eight yards on a Norwich corner.
The game, however, erupted in the 31st minute when O’Neil rashly lunged in on Ibrahim Afellay with a scissors tackle from behind, as the Dutchman aimed to shepherd the ball over the line for a home throw-in.
Stoke players in the vicinity of the incident reacted furiously, with referee Swarbrick swiftly producing a red card for the experienced midfielder.
O’Neil trooped away to the tunnel in front of the away support as Neil furiously re-assembled his troops with Hoolahan switched to left midfield and Howson pushed inside.
The whole dynamic of the contest had shifted in the aftermath of O’Neil’s departure; Stoke now assuming the role of aggressor and the 10-men trying to probe on the counter.
Walters hammered a rising shot over from 22-yards as Hughes and his assistant Mark Bowen urged the hosts to commit men forward.
Mbokani earned a brief respite when he harried Ryan Shawcross to concede a corner in the final seconds of the opening period, but Hoolahan picked out a Stoke defender at the near post.
City’s evening deteriorated further in the 49th minute when Arnautovic was too strong in the challenge against Odjidja before clipping a cross to the far post where Walters reacted quicker than his international team mate Brady to slide the ball past Rudd from close range.
But Howson stunned the Britannia when he lashed Odjidja’s pass into the roof of Butland’s top right-hand corner from 22 yards to draw the visitors’ level before celebrating in front of the away support.
Neil made a double change in the 63rd minute with Jarvis and Nathan Redmond replacing Hoolahan and Odjidja respectively.
The home fans were becoming increasingly agitated at the failure of the hosts to make their numerical advantage count, but Joselu released the rising tension in the 67th minute when he swept home Afellay’s pass into Rudd’s bottom right-hand corner after Seb Bassong’s clearing header dropped straight to the Dutch midfielder.
City tried to respond again with Mbokani using his strength and power to pick out Redmond, but his effort clipped the side netting.
Cameron Jerome replaced the tireless Mbokani for the final 15 minutes with Neil’s men bravely trying to get back on level terms.
But Norwich’s wretched night was summed up when Bennett’s miscued clearing header from Afellay’s free kick looped over his own keeper in the 78th minute to seal the Canaries’ fate.
Former City loanee Peter Crouch was introduced for the final moments and Rudd denied him with a leap to his right to claw out his close range strike.
• Stoke City: Butland, Johnson, Shawcross, Wollscheid, Pieters, Whelan, Afellay, Walters, Bojan (Odemwingie 56), Arnautovic (van Ginkel 76), Joselu (Crouch 83). Subs (not used): Haugaard, Wilson, Adam, Diouf.
• Goals: Walters (49), Joselu (67), Bennett og (78)
• Norwich City: Rudd, Martin, Bennett, Bassong, Brady, Odjidja (Redmond 63), O’Neil, Tettey, Howson, Hoolahan (Jarvis 63), Mbokani (Jerome 75). Subs (not used): Ruddy, Wisdom, Dorrans, Olsson.
• Booking: Tettey (foul on Joselu 76)
• Sending off: O’Neil (31)
• Goal: Howson (55)
• Added on time: 2 minutes / 3 minutes
• Referee: Neil Swarbrick (Lancs)
• Attendance: 27,274 (1,277 away fans)