Back four bid to keep it clean

Norwich City are 90 minutes away from a rare defensive achievement. If the Canaries can keep a clean sheet at the Britannia Stadium it will be their best defensive run in the league for two and a half years.

Norwich City are 90 minutes away from a rare defensive achievement.

If the Canaries can keep a clean sheet at the Britannia Stadium it will be their best defensive run in the league for two and a half years.

You have to go back to April 2004 for the last time City kept the gates closed three times in a row - against Wigan, Reading and Walsall as they put the finishing touches on their Championship season.

Having conceded 17 goals in six Championship games, new boss Peter Grant quickly put up the barricades, picking up a 1-0 win at Birmingham and then a 1-0 win over Cardiff last weekend.

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The Carling Cup tie against Port Vale ended goalless after 120 minutes in midweek - the first time City have had three clean sheets in any competition since the Premiership season when goalless draws against Spurs and Aston Villa were followed by a 1-0 Carling Cup win over Bristol Rovers.

City haven't kept four clean sheets in a row in any competition since the early stages of the 1994-95 season, under the management of John Deehan.

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The early signs this season were good, before the onset of the infamous slump which led to Nigel Worthington's departure - but there are clear signs that, under Grant, City's defence is becoming a difficult one to unlock.

Gary Doherty, a one-match ban aside, has been a constant in that defence, and believes confidence is flowing back into the team following recent results under Grant, particularly last weekend's defeat of Cardiff.

“As a team that will boost us,” he said. “Obviously it is a great foundation to start any game, knowing that you are defending quite well and keeping clean sheets, so hopefully we can keep that going.

“I think we are probably where we were at the start of the season. The first five or six games we were looking quite solid defensively and then we went through a shocking period when goals were flying in left, right and centre and now I think we are back where we were, and obviously that is great for the rest of the team. We know we only need a couple of goals now. But we have to keep it going because Stoke are going to be a powerful team and it is going to be difficult, but we can go into it quite confidently.”

“It's all around the park, all the lads are really working hard at the minute and that is something we have got to keep going if we want to get out of this league, because 90pc of getting out of this league is all about hard work and if we can keep doing that we can keep pushing up the league.”

City have also finally shaken off the away day hex which had followed them around since the last away game of last season.

“I think we were the first team to win at Birmingham and that will give us a big boost to go away from home,” added Doherty. “But we put on good performances at Derby and Leeds, then at Plymouth we were dreadful, so probably people don't know which Norwich City is going to turn up on their travels. Hopefully come Saturday it will be the good Norwich City, which is going to be strong defensively and get a couple of goals.”

Doherty and fellow central defender Jason Shackell were up against giant-sized strikers at Port Vale in the formidable shape of Leon Constantine and Akpo Sodje - but that was only a precursor to what they can expect at the Britannia Stadium today.

“It is obviously going to be physical,” Doherty added. “They have got a few big boys up front and dotted around the pitch they have a good size about them so they are obviously going to be a threat from set pieces and they are going to get forward early on in the game and that is something we have to prepare for and be ready for.

“They have a good mix. We have got to adapt, we have to stand strong and if we do we can get a good result.

“We are pretty confident - we have looked stronger as a unit and that's the important thing.”

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