Jonny Howson's first-half strike from distance was enough to give Norwich all three points in a 1-0 win at Stoke on Sunday afternoon. The win eased the pressure on manager Chris Hughton and was thoroughly deserved as the Potters struggled to get going in front of their own supporters.
Of course, that owed much to the high-tempo approach of the visitors. Here Adam Bate looks at the Opta data to help illustrate how Norwich's pressing won the game in the first half and the make-up of their midfield three allowed them to protect the lead.
Mark Hughes picked the same Stoke starting line-up that were beaten 3-1 at Arsenal so that meant the same back-four that conceded from three set-pieces in that game. Erik Pieters continued at left-back with Marc Wilson in midfield.
Further forward, Kenwyne Jones was again preferred to Peter Crouch as the lone target man, while summer signing Marko Arnautovic was asked to play from the left with the more natural wing option of Matthew Etherington unavailable due to injury.
Chris Hughton made several changes to the Norwich line-up with Ryan Bennett coming in at centre-back due to an injury to Sebastien Bassong. Alexander Tettey also made his first start since the defeat at Hull as part of a five-man midfield. "We've got to get on the ball more," Hughton told Sky Sports before kick-off. "Probe more and ask a few more questions."
That meant Ricky van Wolfswinkel was again expected to play up front on his own rather than partner Gary Hooper. There was no Nathan Redmond to get up in support either due to injury. "They'll miss Redmond," said Kevin Phillips in the studio. "Van Wolfswinkel relies on crosses coming into the box and he provides them."
Where it was won and lost
The noisy Britannia Stadium crowd has become something away teams have had to put great emphasis on dealing with when they travel to play Stoke but it was Norwich who started the stronger on Sunday. There was a sharpness about their play and the way they closed down Wilson and Steven N'Zonzi in midfield prevented the Potters from getting any rhythm going.
The number of tackles and interceptions that Norwich won in the opposition half is evidence of this approach. While Stoke made just three tackles and interceptions in the Norwich half, the visitors managed 11 in that opening 45 minutes and it was a symptom of the fact they were on the front foot.
It played its part in the goal too. After conceding three goals from set-pieces last week, there was now the irony of Stoke conceding from one of their own throw-ins. Geoff Cameron's throw in the right-back position was successfully contested by the Canaries before they had the lucky break of the ball with Howson retrieving it and firing past Asmir Begovic from distance.
"It's been the story of this half," said Alan Smith on commentary. "Stoke giving away possession with Norwich hungry to close down." The tackling statistics illustrates this aggression and hunger. The four players to make the most tackles in the first half of the match were all wearing yellow. Stoke were overwhelmed and lacked the technical ability to play through their opponents.
|Stoke v Norwich - First-half tackling|
Tettey was a big part of that. The holding midfielder made three interceptions in the first half. In contrast, Stoke made four in total. Tettey justified the change in formation, protecting the back-four as Hughton moved away from the 4-4-2 formation he'd used with Johan Elmander alongside Van Wolfswinkel.
"You can see why Chris Hughton has gone for this formation," said Smith. "He doesn't want to lose out numerically in the middle." The presence of Tettey in the anchor role allowed the duo of Howson and Leroy Fer the opportunity to push forward more - making interceptions, probing with their passes and, in Howson's case, scoring the winner.
Howson made that point in his post-match interview. "With Alex behind us, me and Leroy had their bit more licence to break forward," he told Sky Sports. Although Fer did not get a goal, he responded to this greater freedom by using the ball well. His 100 per cent pass completion before the break showed his quality and he kept things ticking over after the interval too.
Stoke made a change at the break with Jermaine Pennant replacing Jonathan Walters on the right and the home side started better with Fer a little lucky to get away with a pull on Jones inside the box. "Stoke have started brighter in this second half," said Smith. "They're competing in the middle of the park."
But the service to their powerful forward remained poor. While Van Wolfswinkel received five passes from Pilkington, the only players to pass to Jones more than once were Begovic, Cameron and Ryan Shawcross. It's a statistic that highlights Stoke's tactics as well as the impressive way that Norwich dealt with the opposition No.9.
While Crouch replaced Jones for the latter stages and Arnautovic joined in more in a central role, the approach play remained the same. This was an important reminder for Hughes and Stoke that it will take time to change things at the Britannia Stadium. Especially if teams press them in their own half like Norwich did on Sunday.
"Too many players were below par today. It's a Premier League game so you need as many players as you can playing at their top level. Unfortunately, we had too many not at the races so it was quite easy for Norwich. In fairness, it's only today they've let themselves down. It's a poor result but we'll pick ourselves us. Credit to Norwich, they came and worked hard by closing us down and we didn't deal particularly well with that."
"It's a tough place to play but I thought we had really good spells in that game where we dominated possession. It's all about putting it in the net and we were looking for someone to produce something. Jonny Howson was able to do that for us. On the balance of play I thought we thoroughly deserved it. They went more direct in the second half and that was something we had to come with. But I thought we coped with it well."
"Credit to Norwich for the way they approached the task. They played some good football in parts, especially during the first half. It just wasn't Stoke's day. Everything they tried, nothing much came off. They didn't have that quality in possession of the ball. There was just no tempo to their game and they didn't move the ball quickly enough."
Although Fer was the villain of the piece for Stoke fans due to his pull on Jones in the box, his performance with the ball at his feet was rather more tidy and saw him named as man of the match. "He could have given a penalty away actually so I was swaying away from him at one point," admitted Smith. "But he's a classy competitor. These are just his first few games in English football and there's a lot more to come from this lad. He had a good game."