Norwich City’s place in Match of the Day schedule was never in doubt after trip to Stoke City

They say it's the most difficult job in football. The pressure of working for an institution with a proud history of which people still expect a lot.

Then you must make your selection from the best the Premier League has to offer, knowing that you are going to be criticised by sections of the public no matter what you do. Being England manager is a doddle compared this.

I don't know who decides the running order for the Match of the Day. Their identity is kept secret, even from those of us who work for the BBC, but that person must have breathed a massive sigh relief at the end of Norwich's game at Stoke on Saturday.

Here was a game which could be shunted right to the bottom of the list and no-one would have the neck to complain.

Being 'last on Match of the Day' on a Saturday night is taken by many supporters as being a massive insult. In a league so reliant on the cash pumped into it by television, winning the approval of the TV pundits is seen as some sort of status symbol. Fans of clubs outside the current Premier League top six have this collective paranoia that their team, whoever it may be, is 'always' last on Match of the Day. I bet Gary Lineker's postbag reflects this on a weekly basis.

Stoke City v Norwich City on Saturday could be described as a sort of public service. It was almost as if they had volunteered to take that dreaded five minutes just before The Football League Show so that no-one else would have to.

I really tried to stay open-minded about Stoke. I was determined to do my best to see beyond the assumed knowledge that they just rely on long throw-ins and set-pieces to score goals.

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The Stoke supporters have long been protesting that they get a raw deal and are a much more complex outfit than most would have you believe.

The mask soon slipped when these same supporters greeted the first throw-in that Stoke won in the Norwich half on Saturday with the sort of roar of anticipation you only usually hear when a player goes clean through on goal.

Their case also wasn't helped by the presence of some fading white lines about five yards away from the touchline all the way around the ground like some kind of ghost pitch.

Further investigation revealed they were exploiting a little-known rule. Apparently the minimum dimensions of a football pitch for a Premier League game are marginally smaller than in the Europa League.

Having recently played Valencia in Europe the Stoke groundsman had busily re-painted the lines to make the pitch as small and narrow as he could possibly get away with, presumably so those long throws didn't have as far to travel.

It's difficult to criticise Stoke; this approach under Tony Pulis has served them well and it's perfectly within the rules, but I do wish they would stop pretending there's more to it than meets the eye. When you can field a team in which Peter Crouch doesn't really stand out there's a fair chance you're going to favour the direct approach.

At one point Crouch took his position in a wall when Norwich were lining up a free-kick close to the Stoke penalty area. I wondered whether anyone had thought of contacting NASA to see whether this was the first ever defensive wall in English football to be visible from space. The Great Wall of Stoke has a certain ring to it.

I really don't think I could put up with going to the Britannia Stadium anymore than once a season. You can't even enjoy half-time there because the presence of a big old gym, which you can see looming between two of the stands, makes the traditional pie a bit too much of a guilty pleasure. As for the style of play, if I ever did get the most difficult job in football I know who'd be on last every week.


The Grant Holt for England bandwagon gathered rather more momentum than I was anticipating last week.

In the end it was a bandwagon which had plenty in common with one of those teams who find themselves perennially at the back of the grid in Formula One.

It made a lot of noise, but didn't really go anywhere. Holt was left to watch England play Holland on the TV like the rest of us.

It is gratifying, though, that the Norwich captain's talents are now being recognised outside Norfolk. Such was the clamour for the City captain to get a call-up that Radio 1 decided to give it some coverage and asked us at BBC Radio Norfolk if they could borrow some commentary clips of Grant Holt scoring for Norwich City. I've always said that what Radio 1 needs is more people shouting.

It wasn't just the young hipsters who went Grant Holt crazy. He also topped a poll in a national newspaper which asked readers to vote on who they wanted to see leading the line for England in Euro 2012.

I hadn't realised the Daily Telegraph had started dabbling in polls like this, but that is mainly because that particular paper is far too big for me to cope with and whenever I have to sort through the heady mix of long words and no pictures in the copy we have in the office it always ends up looking like someone has tried to make one of those old-fashioned paper chains of a line of people holding hands.

My lack of broadsheet newspaper knowledge almost led to me revealing some astonishing news on the radio.

Thankfully it was pointed out to me just in time that Grant Holt was in fact sitting on top of a Telegraph poll on Wednesday morning and not a telegraph pole.