Freezer’s Five: Key talking points from Norwich City’s 1-0 home loss to Stoke
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Our Norwich City correspondent David Freezer delivers his verdict from Carrow Road following the Canaries' first defeat in seven league games.
Carrow Road roar
Everything has fallen into place for the Canaries in recent weeks, the rub of the green enjoyed in a resurgent unbeaten run – but the football gods levelled the playing field at Carrow Road.
Cuco Martina's low cross in the 35th minute was little more than a hopeful thump into the box, only for a diving Timm Klose to divert the ball past Tim Krul at his near post by mistake.
After so much defensive solidity and clinical attacking play, it was a rare low note for Daniel Farke's side but Carrow Road remained patient with their team.
It was a first defeat since the 3-0 home loss to Leeds on August 25 and the warm reception at full-time reflected just how much the Canaries have improved since that day – with On the Ball City roared out in appreciation after the final whistle.
Faith has been restored in recent weeks and a return to action at Nottingham Forest after the international break will no doubt be eagerly awaited.
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Welcome back, Onel
After missing five games due to hernia surgery the emergence of Onel Hernandez from the bench in the 71st minute was loudly welcomed as City chased the game.
This is a player who already has two goals and three assists to his name this season until succumbing to his niggling hernia problem – and he immediately looked bright after replacing Emi Buendia on the right.
The Cuban winger beat Erik Pieters three times in quick succession and injected energy into the home side but couldn't quite unpick the lock, or find Jordan Rhodes in the box.
He skinned Peter Etebo with four minutes remaining but floated a cross behind as the hosts looked short of energy and ideas against a stubborn Stoke, also creating a late penalty shout for a foul on Mario Vrancic which was waved away.
Hernandez tied Etebo in knots in injury-time, only for Leitner to blast well wide, and will no doubt be back in the starting line-up, once he's back to full fitness.
It was a fifth league game with the same starting line-up named by Daniel Farke, in recognition of the fine eight-game unbeaten run, but Mario Vrancic being on the bench again was a surprise.
Max Aarons looked a prime candidate for a rest but Ivo Pinto wasn't even named in the squad and the 18-year-old looked good at right-back, gaining a huge cheer from the Snake Pit in the first half after twice dealing with James McClean in quick succession.
Todd Cantwell again looked lively and linked the attacking play – winning the sponsors' man of the match – but it was a forgettable day for Buendia as he kept conceding possession, although he did thread through Jamal Lewis for the best chance of the first half.
Aarons also belied his stature as the last man early in the second half, managing to halt a rampaging Afobe who had kept bundling his was past City defenders.
With Kenny McLean, Ben Marshall and Grant Hanley all waiting to come back as well, the youngsters will soon have a fight on their hands.
Low power Pukki
Teemu Pukki has been superb for the Canaries this season but the Finn looked to be running on empty early in the second half against Stoke.
He kept trying to run but just could not get up the pace to force the visiting defenders into awkward positions, going too early for a Stiepermann pass that would have had him clean through were it not intercepted, moving into a clearly offside position.
The sharpness just wasn't there and there's little surprise given the intensity of his season so far.
Farke has had a well-motivated Jordan Rhodes waiting in the wings though, with even his hat-trick at Wycombe not enough to bring him many minutes in recent weeks.
Pukki has deserved faith but Rhodes has also deserved more time from the bench as well. He eventually came on in the 71st minute for Stiepermann, in the hope the Pukki magic might still be hiding somewhere.
The Finland international dropped slightly deeper and did test Butland with a driving effort from 20 yards after a fine turn – but his head coach will no doubt wish he wasn't heading off on international duty.
Big name opponents
Despite the superb form City have been enjoying, they came up against a Stoke squad packed with international and top-flight experience.
Tom Ince terrorised Lewis in the first half, a £12million summer signing. It could be a long while before the Canaries can think of spending those kinds of figures.
The Potters were fresh from a decade in the Premier League and with wealthy ownership as well, manager Gary Rowett will be afforded little patience if a promotion challenge doesn't emerge.
An England goalkeeper in Jack Butland who denied Lewis with a fine save at his near post early on, a £12.5m striker in Benik Afobe, international centre-backs Ashley Williams and Bruno Martins Indi – the list goes on.
Once the Potters were ahead through an unfortunate Timm Klose own goal, they looked more and more comfortable.
To emphasise just what a tight division it is, Stoke were 16th and City sixth before kick-off but by full-time were just two points behind the Canaries, who dropped to eighth, with the Potters up to 13th.
There's a long way to go yet, with three quarters of the season still to play.