“We will gain a lot of confidence from these three points. I thought we played with no fear and that is the impressive thing.” Alex Neil
Having soaked in the Premier League reality check on a sun drenched day at Carrow Road, a real reprieve beckoned on matchday.
Any City fan who was concerned about the prospect of a long trip to a established Premier League side in Sunderland needn’t have worried.
The Black Cats provided fresh hope that the daunting prospect of top-flight away days are not quite as worrying as first feared.
City bullied Sunderland into submission long before the half time whistle was blown.
Whether it was a case of Norwich superiority or Sunderland suicide remains a cause for public debate, but the Canaries demonstrated that their fear of failure would stand them in great stead for the onerous challenges that lie in wait.
Alex Neil has engrained an enterprising philosophy within his squad, one that has been overwhelmingly advocated by city supporters.
The Scot that has got the lot, can appear to do no wrong. But the Premier League’s youngest manager will know that much tougher challenges lie in wait between now and May.
The visit of Mark Hughes’ Stoke City will provide the Canaries with the ultimate acid test.
The Potters have invested heavily into the playing squad over the summer and have been drawing comparisons with Barcelona, an indication of the dramatic transition they have made since the kick and rush era under Tony Pulis.
The first two fixtures for Stoke yielded little end product, though a resilient display at White Hart Lane saw The Staffordshire side show they have the quality to kick on.
But Hughes will be all too aware of the feel good factor that surrounds his Norfolk counterparts this afternoon.
Norwich pose a very difficult obstacle to all sides when they have the proverbial bit between their teeth.
City are yet to experience defeat in the 20 games they have seized the initiative against teams under Neil.
However big the step up, Neil has appeared confident that his side are up to the task.
Guiding Hamilton to their first win at Parkhead in over 70 years is a prime indication of his dauntless approach to management.
Whether it’s Ronaldo of Real or Dixon of the Dog & Duck, it seems Neil will seldom change his approach to his opponent.
Every task is taken on with as much emphasis as the previous one and the Scot will select the team he feels will be best up to that task.
In Sparky’s Stoke City, City’s defensive back line will be awfully preoccupied in their plot to achieving clean sheet status.
But in Hoolahan and Redmond, Norwich possess their own main match winners who may not be held in such high regards as Stoke’s plethora of potential world beaters, but they possess Premier League quality nonetheless.
If the battle between City and Stoke lives up to its pre-match billing, we’re certainly in for a spectacular contest at Carrow Road this afternoon.
City boss Alex Neil confirmed that defender Martin Olsson will not be considered for selection as he steps up his recovery from a shoulder operation.
Striker Kyle Lafferty is also set to return to first-team training next week after a knee injury kept him out of Norwich`s pre-season programme.
Youssouf Mulumbu is still recovering from a foot injury sustained in The Canaries` final warm-up game against Brentford. It is likely he is going to be out for another four to five weeks.
Potters’ chief Mark Hughes will be able to field £12 million signing Xherdan Shaqiri after the Swiss winger missed the draw at Spurs following a suspension picked up at previous club Inter Milan.
Stoke are also able to welcome back defender Marc Wilson after an ankle injury.
Former Barcelona protégé, Bojan could also be available after he came through 90 minutes of a development squad match unscathed earlier in the week. However, Hughes may decide that this week has come too soon for the young Spaniard, who hasn`t played a competitive fixture since sustaining a cruciate knee ligament injury at Rochdale in January.
The Potters will certainly have to make do without the services of club captain Ryan Shawcross, who has been ruled out for up to two months following back surgery.
League Form Guide
LW – Norwich showed their steely resilience after the opening day humbling by putting a substandard Sunderland side to the sword.
The win extends City`s unbeaten run on the road to 13 matches, equalling the club record set back in 1985/1986.
Nathan Redmond netted his fifth goal in six competitive outings last weekend and will be looking to better that record against a Stoke side that have conceded three goals in their opening two fixtures.
In the 20 games that Norwich City have taken the lead under Alex Neil, they have gone on to win 17 of those fixtures, drawing the other three.
LD – Having succumbed to a Phillip Coutinho thunderbolt on the opening day, Stoke managed to stage a spirited comeback to take a share of the spoils at White Hart Lane last weekend.
Stoke came from two goals down to claim a point, leaving them five points less than they picked up in the corresponding fixtures during the last campaign.
Stoke`s leading scorer from last year Mame Biram Diouf netted his first goal of the season at Spurs and will be looking to pounce again having enjoyed success against Norwich in the past.
The Senegalese front man netted a hat trick against the Canaries in a Carling Cup during a loan spell with Blackburn Rovers back in August 2010.
Head to Head Stats
The last time we met a second-half penalty by current City transfer target Jon Walters saw Stoke come away from Carrow Road with a point, putting a severe dent in City`s unsuccessful 2013/2014 Premier League survival bid.
Walters’ spot-kick cancelled out Bradley Johnson`s second half header as the clock began to wind down on Chris Hughton`s ill fated managerial tenure.
In happier moments against the Potters, Bradley Johnson was on target again as the Canaries registered a 1-0 victory in November 2012 during City`s record 10-game Premier League unbeaten run.
In April 2007, Keith O`Neill opened the scoring within the first 10 seconds as Mike Walker`s Norwich recorded a 2-0 win against a Stoke side managed by Lou Macari.
What’s in store this time around?
With the season starting pistol only just sounded, it is very difficult to tell where both teams are in their stage of development.
City responded well to their opening day defeat and have shown other teams that we are genuine force to be reckoned with. However, Stoke City represent a real step up in standard.
The Staffordshire side have laced their already strong squad with world-class coating. All the attention will be on Shaqiri`s debut, which may allow City to go about their business away from the Shaqiri-intrigued spectators.
In a fixture which is known for it`s low scoring, I am going to remain the eternal optimist and predict Norwich are going to hold on to a slender one goal advantage, courtesy of red-hot Redmond, as the Canaries continue their impressive return to the top-flight.