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Premier League preview: Norwich City boss Alex Neil keen to test progress of Stoke City

PUBLISHED: 08:30 13 January 2016

Steven Whittaker is denied by the bravery of Jack Butland during the 1-1 draw between Norwich and Stoke earlier this season. Picture: PAUL CHESTERTON/FOCUS IMAGES

Steven Whittaker is denied by the bravery of Jack Butland during the 1-1 draw between Norwich and Stoke earlier this season. Picture: PAUL CHESTERTON/FOCUS IMAGES

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Slick Stoke’s stylish swagger is proof that Norwich City will need time to reinvent their own top-flight identity.

The Potters have become an established Premier League force since gaining promotion in 2008 – a feat of longevity the Canaries would love to match. Alex Neil has already, at times, had to curb his attacking instincts as he looks to find a way to ensure City’s return to English football’s elite lasts longer than one season.

Survival is no longer the main priority for Stoke under Mark Hughes as he continues to redefine the club’s philosophy. But Neil, who takes his men to the Britannia Stadium this evening, is acutely aware it’s not just his own side that are trying to find their feet this term.

He said: “I think a lot of the bigger teams are actually in transition at the moment. You look at Jose Mourinho leaving Chelsea. I don’t think anybody would have forseen that before the season started. What’s happened is I think the so-called lesser teams are well organised, well-drilled, and they’re finding ways of causing the bigger teams problems. Counter-attacking football, with the pace that teams have got, is a huge, huge factor in what goes on in the Premier League and I think Leicester are a prime example of that.

“The one thing I would say about Stoke is that they’ve been an ongoing process over a number of years. It’s not as if they’ve managed to switch that style round within a year. You could argue that it was Tony Pulis who kept them up for a long period of time, but Mark Hughes has been there for just over three years now. So it’s not as if it’s changed overnight. It’s been a lengthy process for them to get to the stage that they’re at.”

Stoke sit 10th, just four points off Manchester United in fifth, and have frustrated Hughes with their inconsistent form throughout the winter. Neil on the other hand has been happy at the Canaries’ upturn which has seen them climb six points above the relegation zone following three league wins in four.

“It is a tough away game,” said the Norwich boss, who welcomes back fit-again Matt Jarvis but has left new signing Ivo Pinto out of the squad as he continues to get up to speed.

“I think they’re in good form but I do think we were highly unfortunate not to get a win against them at our place. We’ll take confidence from that and these games are going to be absolutely crucial for us. We’ve got a couple of games coming up that we want to take as many points we can from.

“We went to Manchester United and managed to get a victory there so there’s absolutely no reason we can’t go to Stoke and hopefully pick up a point, if not three. We’re going there to try and get a result. If we can perform as well as we can there’s no reason why that can’t be the case.”

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