The Canaries tonight found themselves charting some unprecedented waters under Paul Lambert’s charge after Matthew Etherington’s 72nd minute strike condemned the Norfolk side to their third straight defeat.
FA Cup exit to Leicester City, the 2-1 defeat at home to Premier League champions Manchester United and now today’s 1-0 away defeat at Stoke City – Norwich don’t do back-to-back defeats.
They certainly don’t do three reverses in a row; albeit both Premiership defeats came with performances attached.
This weekend’s was more of an ugly, great grind against a Potters side that proved just as physically uncompromising and direct in their approach to Premier League survival as everyone had expected.
Suffice to say, the ‘highlights’ – such as they were – won’t make for compelling viewing on Match Of The Day this evening.
But the Stoke faithful and boss Tony Pulis will have an easy retort to those that question their combative style and their direct route to the opposition goal – it is they that sit eighth in the table this evening and not Norwich.
Afterwards, Lambert’s frustrations were more directed towards the assistant referee than the opposition manager and grandiose debates about what makes for a beautiful game – the one that over-ruled the referee, missed the last touch from Stoke’s Mark Wilson and gave the Potters the throw-in.
From that decision came a flick-on from substitute Cameron Jerome and a neat finish from ex-Hammers winger Etherington as Norwich’s stubborn resistance – led by the centre-half pairing of Zak Whitbread and Elliott Ward – finally ended.
At the other end, chances were all-too few and far between as the Canaries found themselves locked in an ugly war of physical attrition.
“I think it was our throw [for the goal.],” a disappointed Lambert told the Press afterwards.
“The referee is walking away as if he has given it to us, and he actually raises his hand a little bit as if it is a Norwich throw, and then the linesman has overruled him for some reason.
“Our lads think it is our throw, we are out of possession and then we lose a bad goal. I think it was there for everybody to see that it was a Norwich throw. The ref did admit it to me in the tunnel that he was going to give it to us, but the linesman has overruled him.”
The Canary chief did, however, admit that the visitors struggled to fire their natural game into life as Stoke returned to their traditional form – fresh from inflicting a similar, muscular defeat on Swansea City.
“It is frustrating,” said Lambert, who handed new-boy Jonny Howson a place in his starting line-up. Fellow new-boy Ryan Bennett found his way onto the bench as Lambert trusted the likes of Elliott Bennett, Andrew Surman and Anthony Pilkington to find Grant Holt a path to goal.
Not for the first time, however, sides that arrived at the Britannia with clear, footballing intent found themselves harried off the ball and squeezed into making the kind of hurried decisions that costs teams possession all-too easily.
It might not be beautiful, but it can be brutally effective – as the Swans discovered to their own cost last week.
With Stoke eighth in the table, Norwich tonight found themselves slipping back to tenth. In a results-driven business, Pulis continues to deliver the Premier League points and such prizes as FA Cup final trips to Wembley and Europa Cup football. Neither are to be sniffed at.
“We never had many chances in the game and never really got going with any fluency,” admitted Lambert afterwards.
Holt was presented with arguably Norwich’s best chance from a Martin first-half free-kick. Unfortunately he could only direct his header straight at the keeper.
One, final chance would present itself to City’s top-scorer before the end, but once that disappeared courtesy of a timely block, so the Canaries were left with a weary and empty-handed trip home after an eminently-forgettable afternoon out in the Potteries.