Norwich City haven't had the brightest start to the season, and coming up on a very rough stretch of fixtures needed to get three points out of their visit to Stoke City. That a trip to the Britannia might be considered an 'easy' fixture gives an idea of how rough their schedule is over the next few weeks; that they were successful in their quest for a win demonstrates that the Canaries have the ability, despite taking just four points from their first five games, to trouble even very difficult opposition.
The first half saw the Canaries take a deserved lead. It did take them half an hour of constant pressure to get through Stoke's defence, and they should have scored sooner than they actually did. In the ninth minute, Ryan Bennett rattled the crossbar after a corner kick found its way to him at the back post, and when the ball came to him again, Asmir Begovic was on hand to smother the close-range shot.
But Norwich would eventually make the breakthrough, and it came from a turnover high up the pitch. Stoke lost possession, the ball was immediately cycled to Jonathan Howson, and even though his 30-yard shot wasn't placed very well, there was enough on the effort to beat Begovic and give the visitors a deserved lead. The most galling part of the goal, so much as Mark Hughes was concerned, is that Marko Arnautovic had come within inches of scoring just earlier when he sent a shot fizzing just over John Ruddy's crossbar on more or less the first Stoke attack of the game. Instead, the Canaires were ahead.
The Potters were stung into life by the goal. They stepped up the intensity significantly after scoring, and very nearly equalised when Ryan Shawcross beat Michael Turner on a corner kick only for the centre back to glance his header wide. The second half brought a pair of substitutions, with Jermaine Pennant and Stephan Ireland thrown into the mix, and Stoke were well on top for much of the second half.
But unlike the visitors, their dominance never converted itself into a goal. Indeed, it was Norwich who came closer to scoring despite being on the back foot -- Begovic was forced into a fine stop from Robert Snodgrass with ten minutes to go to keep the game within reach -- and that they saw the match out for an important three points didn't exactly come as a surprise.
Stoke City starting lineup (4-2-3-1): Asmir Begovic; Erik Pieters, Robert Huth, Ryan Shawcross, Geoff Cameron; Marc Wilson, Steven Nzonzi; Marko Arnautovic, Charlie Adam (Jermaine Pennant 45'), Jonathan Walters (Stephen Ireland 45'); Kenwyne Jones (Peter Crouch, 66').
Norwich City starting lineup (4-5-1): John Ruddy; Martin Olsson, Ryan Bennett, Michael Turner, Russell Martin; Anthony Pilkington (Steven Whittaker 83'), Jonathan Howson, Leroy Fer, Alexander Tetty, Robert Snodgrass; Ricky van Wolfswinkel (Johan Elmander 76').
Goals: Howson 34'.