Teemu Pukki was at the double to help Championship leaders Norwich City extend their unbeaten run to nine matches, in what was a game of two halves at the bet365 Stadium.
In what promised to be a stern test for both teams, seventh place Stoke City welcomed top of the table Norwich City to the bet365 Stadium on a cold Tuesday night in the Potteries.
Michael O’Neill’s men had no new injury concerns from their thrilling win 4-3 against Huddersfield Town just three days earlier. There was a singular personnel change coming into the game, as Josh Tymon came in for Jacob Brown.
Norwich had been left with an injury-ravaged squad going into the match, with nine first team players on the sidelines heading into the game. They made three changes following their previous 1-0 win away at Middlesbrough, with Martin, Pukki and Tettey replacing Placheta, Hugill and Rupp.
It was a quiet start to the game, yet an lapse of judgement from Canaries ‘keeper Krul nearly allowed Steven Fletcher to pounce and open the scoring after eight minutes, but the Dutchman was able to clear his lines and avoid embarrassment.
Down the other end, it took a great block from Stoke defender Harry Souttar to stop a low cross reaching Pukki in the middle of the box, a chance the Finnish international undoubtedly would have taken.
Just 3 minutes later, and the away side had the goal that their pressure and possession had deserved. The ball found Marco Stiepermann in the centre of the pitch, who slotted in Emi Buendia. The Argentinian forward took a touch and was able to find Bursik’s right-hand corner to score just his second goal* of the season.
Norwich looked dangerous with every attack, and they found the key to unlock the Potters’ defence yet again on twenty-seven minutes. It was a delightful ball from goalscorer Buendia to play in Pukki, and the Fin did the rest himself. One touch with his chest, and a half volley struck across young Joe Bursik and the Canaries had doubled their lead before the half hour mark.
Stoke needed a response, and were left wondering how the ball hadn’t ended up in Tim Krul’s net just minutes after going two down. Fletcher connected with a great cross and his header was brilliantly saved by Krul, with the ball falling to Tyrese Campbell, his blocked volley eventually finding Nick Powell on the charge into the box. The midfielders’ header rattling Krul’s crossbar.
Fletcher’s chance had resulted in him colliding with the advertising hoardings, and he failed in his attempt to play on from injury. Lee Gregory was the man to replace the Scot after thirty-five minutes.
It was Norwich’s injury woes that were next to be extended, as goalkeeper Krul trudged down the tunnel 5 minutes before half-time, with what looked to be a hamstring injury. Northern Ireland international Michael McGovern took his place in between the sticks, in his first club appearance of the season.
The Potters’ claims for a penalty were waved away from referee Geoff Eltringham, as Grant Hanley looked to have impeded Danny Batth from a free kick into the box.
The game was largely played in Norwich’s half up to the interval, but Stoke could not fashion any real chances of their own as the Yellows’ back four stood firm.
Half Time: Stoke City 0-2 Norwich City
It was changes aplenty for the hosts at half time, with out of favour winger Tom Ince making just his second appearance of the season, on for Josh Tymon. Nathan Collins also replaced Tommy Smith. It looked to be a switch to four at the back for the Potters.
Just ten minutes into the second period, and the Norfolk side looked to have wrapped up all three points with a large portion of the game still to play. Pukki was set free and found himself one on one with Bursik, rounding the youngster to tap the ball into an empty net and complete a brace with two goals from two shots.
Norwich continued their hot streak of fouls with another late challenge, this time Buendia the man to go into the referee’s book for a rash tackle on Danny Batth.
Buendia then duly received his marching orders with a second yellow card after sixty-nine minutes, after leaving a high boot on Nick Powell. The attacker could have zero complaints and trudged off leaving his team to play the last twenty minutes with ten men.
Things had begun to look up for Stoke, and they took advantage of being a man up almost instantly. A cross swung in from the Potters’ right hand side was met by the man in form Tyrese Campbell, who headed the ball past a hapless McGovern in the Norwich goal to make it 3-1 on seventy minutes. It was a deserved lifeline for the home side, who now needed to make Norwich sweat.
The hosts were pushing for another goal, and yet another ball into the box caused mayhem with ‘keeper McGovern producing a fine save and Danny Batth rattling the outside of the post on the follow-up.
With eleven minutes to go, Stoke put themselves within one goal of levelling the game. Pressure had forced a corner from the Stoke left and Sam Clucas found the head of Ireland u21 international Nathan Collins, who increased the pressure on the away side with just his second goal in English football.
It was all Stoke into the last ten minutes, and they thought they had found their all-important equaliser with eighty-seven on the clock when Gregory turned the ball home, after it had been circling in the air waiting to drop. However, the striker was adjudged to have impeded McGovern in the Norwich goal prior to scoring, and a foul was given the other way. A decision that looked to be harsh given the circumstances.
With the proverbial kitchen sink thrown at the Norwich defence, Stoke were unable to muster up enough threat to grab an equaliser, and the game petered out with five minutes of added time still not enough for the home side.
The game was ended with the extra minutes all but up, and Norwich walked away winners of what turned out to be a great game for the neutral, despite the away side seemingly cruising to a routine victory at half time.
Full Time: Stoke City 2-3 Norwich City
Man of the Match: Teemu Pukki
Stoke will certainly look upon numerous penalty claims as the reason for their defeat, as well as the disallowed goal, but their defence needed to be much stronger against one of the most clinical attacking forces in the league. They were ultimately punished in the first half, and it was a long road back to try and get anything from the game after that, despite a spirited second half performance. On the balance of play, they will count themselves unlucky not to walk away with a share of the spoils.
Norwich will take many positives from the game, not least that star striker Teemu Pukki has continued his good form in front of goal, this being the first time he has scored in back to back games for the Canaries since January. The away side once again showed their credentials in being able to grind out wins, despite being a man down and having heaps of pressure thrown on them in the closing stages- something that Daniel Farke will consistently need of his team if they are to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
Stoke remain in seventh place for now, with clubs below able to climb above them with wins on Wednesday. They travel to Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday. Norwich stay in first place, with their unbeaten run now stretching back to 9 games. Their next game comes at home to Coventry, also on Saturday.
Match report by Oliver Walton.