“If it ain`t broke, don`t fix it,” so goes the clichéd saying but when it comes to football, it`s almost always true.
Alex Neil kept faith with the same side that put Sunderland to the sword last week and resisted the urge to tinker as Norwich went in search of their first home points of the season.
During the build-up, all the talk was whether or not Xherdan Shaqiri would make his debut for Stoke and Mark Hughes duly obliged by putting his new star winger in the starting line-up. Stoke also played new boys Affelay, van Ginkel and Glen Johnson, something that Alex Neil had spoken about on Friday as looking to take advantage of the new signings “bedding in.”
It was a roasting hot day with temperatures climbing towards 30c at pitch side and the heat seemed to take it`s toll on both sets of players in a slightly laboured first half. Referee Mike Dean stopped play in both halves to allow for a “drinks rest” which incredibly saw some chumps at the back of the stand start booing! I dare say that those booing would struggle to last five minutes in that heat, never mind 45 each half. Stoke had the best of it with Shaqiri looking good early on. He`s as tall as Wes Hoolahan and built like a tank, a very solid unit but with a good centre of balance and a turn of pace that gave Whittaker and Brady a few problems throughout, although Brady handled him better than Whitts did.
Shaqiri made his mark in English football on 11 minutes when he provided an excellent free kick into the box with that classy left boot of his. It was sent to the far post and there was Diouf, unmarked to send a diving header past Ruddy and into the corner of the net. Yet again though, despite Xherdan`s delivery, it was a very avoidable goal that we conceded. Tettey’s man, I think and he let him go far too easily.
Both sides were tidy in possession although it was Norwich who started to press after the goal with Tettey and Dorrans both playing well. Tettey in particular was everywhere as he put in a huge effort on a very hot day, constantly closing down and winning the ball before giving it to Dorrans, whose distribution was good, sometimes excellent but he did give away two or three unnecessary free kicks in dangerous areas.
City equalised on 28 minutes when Brady took a free kick on the left about 30 yards from goal and Bassong and Martin came up from the back. Redmond cleverly flicked the ball on and it fell to Martin whose shot was very well saved by Butland and deflected out to the right. Jerome sent it back in with an overhead kick (I know) and the ball fell to Martin again. This time he made sure and hit a shot through Butland`s legs to make the score 1-1.
No changes for either side after the break and Norwich looked a different team from the re-start as they attacked the River End. Stoke were unable to cope with the pace and crisp passing from Norwich and within moments, Cameron Jerome was sent through one-on-one with Butland, centrally in the penalty area. Inexplicably, he put his shot wide of goal. Jerome had a decent game against his old employers and was his usual hassling, physical self but his main job is to score goals and he fluffed his lines with this one. If ever there was a game to emphasise Norwich City`s need for a new striker it was this one.
To be fair though, Jack Butland had the game of his life in that second half in the Stoke goal. He made four superb saves as City battered Stoke but couldn`t find a breakthrough. He got fingertips to a Dorrans shot to push the ball onto the post and out for a corner, he denied Redmond with another great stop and then parried a close range overhead kick from Jerome (I know) before finally pushing away another good strike from Dorrans, low down to his left. Well played, son.
The game finished with a succession of corners for Norwich but Stoke saw them all out and held on for a point with substitute Joselu blazing over when well placed, ten minutes before the end.
The shot statistics for the game make interesting reading, showing that Norwich had 21 shots and 7 on target while Stoke only had 6 shots and just 1 on target. The possession stats show the home side had 58% of the ball too.
In terms of the players on view, other than conceding the goal, which was shoddy again, the defence did okay after conceding. Shaqiri was a handful in the first half but faded in the second due to being well shackled by Brady and probably due to a lack of match fitness as well. Diouf is always an awkward customer but Bassong and Martin were usually able to deal with him and Russ got on the score sheet again and is now joint top scorer!
Redmond was sharp and should`ve scored when well placed but perhaps that`s being a little harsh when you consider the quality of Butland today. Tettey worked his socks off, as did Howson, while Dorrans was also unlucky not to score with two good efforts being foiled by Butland. Wes Hoolahan continued to show his class and has yet to have a bad game this season. His vision and passing was again a joy to behold.
As I said about Jerome, he put in a shift and was unlucky not to score with his overhead kick (I know) late on when Butland somehow managed to scramble the ball away from point blank range with the ball almost past him. BUT, and it`s a big but, his failure to score that earlier one-on-one was a real disappointment, to not even hit the target was very poor indeed. He won`t need telling, he`ll know the quality of the chance created for him but if that doesn`t have David McNally opening his desk drawer and reaching for the cheque book, then nothing will.
This was a very entertaining game of football but one that Norwich should’ve won comfortably but for an opposition goal keeper in exceptional form. We simply cannot create this many chances and fail to take them.