Norwich City 0, Stoke City 1
Chris Lakey It was the old one-two, the sucker punch that everyone knew Stoke had in their armoury - and it proved costly for the Canaries.
Norwich 0, Stoke 1: It was the old one-two, the sucker punch that everyone knew Stoke had in their armoury - and it proved costly for the Canaries.
Stoke exploit the basics, and it served them well, the old routine of a Rory Delap long throw being met by one of their big forwards - in this case Mamady Sidibe - earning the points.
Canaries boss Glenn Roeder will be furious at the manner of the goal, even though City's improved performance - which deserved at least a share of the spoils - might prove to be some consolation.
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They would have got a point had leading scorer Jamie Cureton not put a three-yard shot the wrong side of the post deep into time added on - and therein lies the problem. City can't score.
Norwich have failed to score more than once in a home league match in eight attempts since the 2-1 home win over Plymouth on December 4, and if that record doesn't improve soon, they could find themselves in a very difficult position - again.
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City at least started better, having conceded goals within the opening 15 minutes in their last three matches, and by half an hour the original staring line-up was still on the pitch, Roeder not forced into the changes he faced at Coventry on Saturday.
They had a case for thinking they were hard done by, with two senior players - Gary Doherty and Darel Russell - missing through suspension against a side looking good for an automatic promotion spot.
But one look at the league table proves that whatever you think about Stoke's tactics - and they don't include much passing of the ball on the ground - they are effective.
Roeder had recalled Cureton to partner Dion Dublin in attack, with Ched Evans on the bench, while Jon Otsemobor came in at right back for Juan Velasco, who had been suffering with a slight thigh injury.
The big surprise was on the bench where 18-year-old second year Academy product Luke Daley - scorer of four goals in six reserve team games and eight in 20 starts for the Under-18s - had a seat for the first time.
Daley's presence puts some major question marks over Chris Martin, who was making a name for himself 12 months but now appears to be well down Roeder's pecking order. Colleague Michael Spillane - who hasn't played for the first team since the FA Cup exit at Bury two months ago - was also on the bench.
As expected, Stoke launched the ball towards the head of Mamady Sidibe in the opening seconds, although once the dust had settled Cureton was unlucky not to get on the end of a neat through ball by Matty Pattison.
Ryan Bertrand did well to keep the ball in play and send in a low cross which just evaded Dublin as City set about doing what they hadn't done for too long - make early inroads into their opponents.
Stoke keeper Carlo Nash was struggling with his kicks from the Barclay Stand end as both sides took time to adjust to the blustery conditions.
City broke well on 11 minutes, Croft bringing the ball out of the area after a Stoke corner, freeing Mark Fotheringham in midfield who, in turn, passed it on to Bertrand on the left. The on-loan Chelsea youngster made it to the edge of the area but then appeared to be caught between a shot and a cross and in the end the ball was always curling away from the target as it went across goal.
It was Bertrand who was showing well, with some excellent work down the left flank, with City pressing as the 15-minute barrier passed without incident.
City's start was encouraging - and acknowledged by the home crowd - with Cureton picking holes in and around the area, Fotheringham and Pattison refusing to be out-muscled in midfield and Dublin dominant in the air.
The Dublin-Cureton partnership almost provided an opening on 21 minutes when Otsemobor's throw was headed on by the veteran, with Cureton turning and firing in a snap shot which hit Leon Cort full in the face on the edge of his six-yard box before bouncing to safety.
The wind was soon joined by driving rain, but City could easily have been sunk when a Stoke corner hit Otsemobor and was gathered by Marshall - the City defender knowing little about it.
Sightings of goal had been rare for both sides, with the match levelling out after the Canaries' good start.
Bertrand found Cureton with a lovely through ball, but the striker was out-numbered on the edge of the area, while a couple of deliveries from Otsemobor went astray while City were in promising positions.
Cureton had City's - and the match's - best effort on 41 minutes, when Cort made a mess of controlling a long ball forward, enabling the poacher to steal the ball from him and fire in a shot which Nash saved to his left.
Otsemobor fired wide as City broke - ignoring the claims of several team-mates who were better positioned - while there was a scare at the other end when Carl Dickinson's cross from the left drifted away from his colleagues, but grazed David Marshall's crossbar before bouncing away to safety.
It hadn't been a classic opening 45 minutes, but it had certainly been better than Norwich fans have seen from their team in some recent matches - all that was needed was a goal to really warm some hands.
Fotheringham almost supplied it two minutes after the restart, cutting in from the left and firing in a good shot from 20 yards which the keeper fumbled before grabbing at the third attempt.
Stoke managed to put a few passes together down the right, rather than rely on the big punt, for Lawrence to cross, Dublin clearing before Pugh fired high and wide.
The visitors brought on another striker, Ricardo Fuller, for the ineffective Salif Diao minutes later, with Creswell dropping back to midfield, and immediately began to press.
And within seven minutes, the change had worked - and it was absolutely no surprise to anyone that it came from the direct route which is Tony Pulis' trademark. Delap took the throw on the right, Sidibe got between Pearce and Shackell and flicked it goalwards, over Marshall and into the net. Not only was it simplicity itself - it was exactly what the Canaries should have expected from Stoke.
City faced an uphill task now, literally, with Stoke locking up at the back. Otsemobor saw a rising effort sail just over, but City needed to be closer to Nash's goal than 25 yards.
Roeder brought on Evans for the final 20 minutes, Camara making way with Bertrand dropping to left back - although the young striker was soon in need of treatment after being felled by Andy Griffin's flailing elbow off the ball. He picked himself up and turned well on the edge of the box before sending in a left-footer which went just over.
Cureton thought he had got City back into the game on 76 minutes when Evans flicked on Dublin's lovely pass, but City's leading scorer was denied at the back post by Nash.
Dublin was at the heart of a chance moments later, setting up Croft for a pinpoint cross which Evans directed goalwards but, from 12 yards, couldn't get enough power on to guide past Nash.
Norwich were edging as close as they had been in the second half and the volume inside Carrow Road rose with their hopes, although there was near silence when Lawrence's grass-cutter from distance forced Marshall to scramble across his goal and push around his post.
Pattison shot just wide as time began to run out and then, with five minuets of time added on, Cureton inexplicably put a close-range effort wide after Pearce had won a header from Fotheringham's corner.
It was kitchen sink time for the Canaries - but it wasn't to be.
Norwich: Marshall 6, Otsemobor 6, Pearce 7, Shackell 8, Camara 6 (Evans 69, 6), Croft 6, Fotheringham 7, Pattison 6, Dublin 7, Cureton 6. Subs: Gilks, Gibbs, Spillane, Daley.
Stoke: Nash, Griffin, Cort (Shawcross 81), Riggott, Dickinson, Lawrence, Diao (Fuller 51), Delap, Pugh, Sidibe (Gallagher 84), Cresswell. Subs: Simonsen, Wilkinson.
Booking: Delap, 90, foul on Evans.
Goal: Sidibe 58.
EDP Man of the match: Jason Shackell.
Referee: Andy Woolmer (Northants).
Time added on: 1 min/5 mins.
Norwich 7, Stoke 2.
Norwich 7, Stoke 2.
Norwich 11, Stoke 14.
Norwich 6, Stoke 6.
Norwich 3 Stoke 3.