Norwich City’s Man of the Match v Stoke

PUBLISHED: 11:23 05 March 2012 | UPDATED: 16:02 05 March 2012

Norwich City's Man of the Match: Zak Whitbread. Picture: Paul Chesterton / Focus Images

Norwich City's Man of the Match: Zak Whitbread. Picture: Paul Chesterton / Focus Images

©Focus Images Limited +447814 482222

Given Stoke’s mastery in the air and propensity for football in the clouds, the odds on a Norwich City defender featuring prominently in the star performer stakes were prohibitively high.

Matthew Etherington’s solitary match-winner may have highlighted one or two increasingly rare frailities in the Canaries’ rearguard on a day when for the large part they responded bravely to the onslaught at the Britannia Stadium. Zak Whitbread and Elliott Ward were always going to be pivotal to the outcome.

Ward may feel he could have held up Etherington’s decisive charge, although given the folly for even the slightest miscalculation in the penalty box these days you could understand his reticence not to be enticed into a rash challenge.

Whitbread, however, was foot and head perfect again. The blonde-haired centre back continued where he had left off against Manchester United. The plan was obvious from the first throw-in of the match. Whitbread and Ward would trap Peter Crouch in a pincer. Crouch escaped just the once - when John Ruddy was his equal from point blank range.

Whitbread’s ability to anticipate reduced the risk at source with numerous unfussy interceptions both in the air and on the floor preventing Stoke from building off Crouch. Whitbread also tried to get Norwich on the front foot in the final stages to try and cancel out Etherington’s strike.

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