The Tuckster’s view on a great three points in a rather dull game against Stoke City…
A lot of people talk about “must win” games and while we`re no-where near that point of the season, if Norwich are to stay in the Premier League this would be a game that we should be targeting a victory from.
City have been in excellent form of late with victories against Arsenal and Spurs at Carrow Road as well that draw at Villa in between.
I think the manager needs to take a lot of credit for what has happened of late. He tinkered early on with his formation before settling on the 4-5-1 that has produced the goods recently.
The team has been settled and the manager decided that only a couple of changes were necessary. On the right wing, Snodgrass replaced Elliot Bennett and with Russell Martin still injured, City fielded a back four made up entirely of Chris Hughton signings. Martin`s replacement was Steven Whittaker who played against Spurs but made his Premier League debut here.
It seems of late that Stoke City have been trying to play a little more football than their reputation has previously suggested.
The arrival of Charlie Adam suggested Tony Pulis wanted to try a different direction but old habits die hard, as we shall see.
In the first half they did try to play some football, interspersed with their famous long ball tactics – but I don`t see anything wrong with mixing it up. Going long can be useful, at times.
Adam had the first chance when he curled a first time 25yd effort narrowly wide after a defensive mix up.
City had the dynamic pairing of Tettey and Johnson in the centre as usual, of late and both ran their socks off. Again, Tettey had a great game – any match against Stoke City will be a tough one, no matter who they are playing and you need your players to play at 100%, which they pretty much did.
Snodgrass was always a threat going forward and tracked back to help Whittaker when required. Pilkington did a similar job and was unlucky not to score when Wes Hoolahan played him into the area.
Begovic made a good save with an outstretched leg but it should`ve been one nil to Norwich.
Wes continued his recent fine form as he used the ball effectively whenever he received it. He was too tricky for Adam and Whitehead to get a handle on, most of the time.
Talking of Adam, he started a niggling relationship with the City fans when he was booked for diving when challenged by Garrido 30 yards out.
Mr Marriner had already seen Charlie throwing himself around looking for free kicks earlier and I guess he`d just had enough. My first reaction was that the booking looked a little harsh but I haven`t seen a replay yet. Pulis was adamant that Garrido pushed him over, however.
With Norwich giving as good as they were getting, on the stroke of half time Snodgrass was fed the ball on the right. He sprinted towards goal at top speed when he was challenged by Wilkinson who was adjudged to have fouled him.
Snoddy ended up on the floor and again Pulis went mental. Afterwards he accused Snodgrass of diving. My opinion is that when a player is travelling so quickly it doesn`t take a lot to knock him over and I`ll stick my neck out and say that`s what happened here.
Whatever, Snodgrass got up and took the free kick which was beautifully floated into the Stoke area – Johnson rose with his back to goal and somehow flicked the ball backwards and into the top corner. “ONE NIL TO THE FOOTBALL TEAM” sang the Canary faithful.
Pulis remonstrated with the referee as he left the field but I didn`t see much wrong with what had gone on.
After trying to play football in the first half and finding that Norwich were a better footballing side Stoke City decided to revert to type for the second half.
They started to hump the ball forward at every opportunity, looking for the head of Crouch. One such move found Walters get into a one on one situation with Ruddy but his fierce shot was too close to the City keeper who parried the ball away to keep his goal intact.
Stoke continued in this vein and when Crouch was joined by Kenwyne Jones on 69 minutes it was a real test for the Norwich defence.
Hughton was forced into two defensive changes when both Turner and Garrido were unable to continue. Enter Ryan Bennett and Leon Barnett. This may have caused a ripple of upset to the back four`s rhythm as Whittaker finished the game at left back with Bennett at right back, but they coped admirably.
Stoke huffed and puffed, mostly from the exertion of kicking the ball so far at every chance they had – it must take it out of you constantly kicking the ball so hard for 90 minutes.
I enjoyed watching Charlie Adam when he was at Blackpool and thought he had a cultured left foot that could open up a defence very well indeed.
He is a shadow of his former self in this Stoke team. He was reduced to hoofing it just like his team mates. At one point in the second half he used that left foot to smash a ball fully 60 yards high up in the air and harmlessly into the Barclay stand – Charlie, what have you become? And why they signed Michael Owen is a complete mystery, how does he fit into this team where strength and power (and height) are valued so highly?
The arrival of Jones caused problems as it did in this fixture last season. His best chance came (from a long ball) when he chested the ball down and hit a low shot inches wide of Ruddy`s right hand post.
Towards the end of the game and with Morison having replaced Hoolahan, Grant Holt, who had a tough game and at the end had dropped back to help the defenders out, played a pass 60 yards out to Morison (that`s how you do it, Charlie) who ran down the channel and instead of trying to hold it in the corner, tried to play the ball off Huth to get a corner kick.
It didn`t work and the ball ran harmlessly to Begovic, who launched it again. He did the same thing late on against Spurs and it was a mistake then as well. I can see what you were trying to do though, Steve.
The game finished one nil and it was, in my opinion, fully deserved. I`ve heard Tony Pulis say that he thinks that his team played like the home team and should`ve won but he`s wrong.
Norwich were resilient and tough and tried to play football. Stoke are always tough to beat as they are so physical and competitive which is why the Man Uniteds and Chelseas always have trouble with them.
Their style of football is effective but must be depressing to watch week in and week out. They play the percentages and although they seem to try to be playing a bit more football, ultimately they are always reduced to a long ball looking for a knock down.
So, it was ironic to beat them at their own game, a fact not lost on the home crowd, I`m sure. Shouts of “HOOF” greeted every long ball during this match – there was a lot of shouting.
This was a great three points, well earned, and it now brings City`s unbeaten run to four matches. Seven points from nine in the league has given our season a big shot in the arm and lifted us up the table and (at time of writing) six points away from the bottom three.
Wes Hoolahan again claimed the man of the match award but I think that Alex Tettey would`ve been my shout. He was so powerful and just what was needed here against this opposition. He did not stop running, played the ball around nicely and took the chance to shoot whenever he could – a great all round midfield performance.
Next up are Reading and this gives us a good opportunity to continue our run. It won`t be easy of course and more hard work will be required. But all credit to Chris Hughton, it`s starting to work rather well.