Photo Gallery: Angry Norwich City thrown out of their stride by Stoke
PUBLISHED: 09:16 05 March 2012 | UPDATED: 16:04 05 March 2012
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Stoke City 1, Norwich City 0: If proof were needed that football can take one from the sublime to ridiculous in less than a week, Norwich City supporters at the Britannia Stadium were presented with it.
Six days after watching their team play out a thrilling, high-quality, nerve-shredding encounter with reigning Premier League champions Manchester United, they endured a grim battle with Stoke City that would have been rated poor even by Championship standards.
For more than three quarters of the game, the one consolation was that their 400-mile round trip to windswept Staffordshire might be rewarded with another point towards guaranteeing top-flight football for a further season.
But even that hope was blown away by Matthew Etherington’s controversial 72nd-minute winning goal. Those with long memories may conclude that the former West Ham winger was taking belated revenge for the day fans in the Snakepit at Carrow Road helped earn him a second yellow card and an early dismissal for refusing to put the ball in the quadrant when taking a corner.
But, in the here and now, Etherington’s goal gave Stoke their second successive home win, condemned Paul Lambert’s team to defeat for the third weekend in a row, and took them above the Canaries in the table in the process.
In such poor shape are the Premier League’s bottom five that slipping from eighth to 11th in one weekend is no cause for alarm for City, 13 points clear of the danger zone with 11 games to go. But they will be keen to restore normal service when Wigan – propping up the rest and with their chairman publicly questioning their manager – come to Carrow Road for Sunday’s televised match, which one hopes will provide better entertainment.
What little action the first half produced at the Britannia was mostly in and around the Norwich goalmouth, but not, as one feared, as a direct result of Ryan Shotton’s tedious long throws.
Stoke threatened first when a slip by Kyle Naughton let Jonathan Walters in for a powerful shot, but goalkeeper John Ruddy was able to knock it down. Dean Whitehead missed a decent opening midway through the half when Shotton played him through but his shot lacked the power to beat Ruddy, diving to his right.
At the other end, skipper Grant Holt got in a far-post header from a free-kick by Anthony Pilkington, but it was straight at ’keeper Asmir Begovic.
The best chance before the break came on 43 minutes when Stoke’s giant ex-Canary striker, Peter Crouch, was denied twice in a matter of seconds. First his header from Shotton’s cross was blocked by Bradley Johnson’s foot, but the ball came back to Crouch off Elliott Ward and this time Ruddy made a fine point-blank save from his follow-up shot.
After the interval, Begovic dealt fairly comfortably with Elliott Bennett’s 20-yard drive and a curling free-kick by Andrew Surman, but the decisive moment of the match came with 18 minutes to go, shortly after Stoke made a double change in attack, replacing Walters and Crouch with Cameron Jerome and Kenwyne Jones.
As Bennett challenged Marc Wilson on the Stoke left, the ball appeared to go into touch off the Stoke full-back, but with the Canaries expecting a throw-in, referee Michael Oliver instead gave it to the hosts. Wilson’s throw was flicked on by Jerome as he outjumped Johnson and Etherington neatly swerved past Ward to rifle a left-foot shot past Ruddy from a tight angle.
It was ironic that after all the pre-match talk about the danger of Stoke’s guided missiles raining in from the touchline, the Canaries were caught out instead by a quickly-taken throw, and one they thought should have been theirs.
Russell Martin produced an excellent block on Jerome with six minutes to go to limit further damage, but City seldom looked likely to salvage a point, and indeed might have struggled to score had they played until midnight.
Lambert sprang a slight surprise by handing new signing Jonny Howson a debut in midfield ahead of David Fox, who played only the final 11 minutes, but it was not the kind of contest for a new recruit to easily find his feet.
It might also be wondered, after successive weekends without taking a Premier League point, whether City’s lukewarm approach to their FA Cup fifth round tie was really justified. One hopes – and most fans will expect – that the visit of Wigan will dispel any slight worry about losing becoming a habit.