Scroll to Photostream above left for match photos, click on the statistics tab for match stats; manager reaction below.
Charlie Adam ended a five-month goal drought to give Stoke City back-to-back victories for the first time since December and leave the club on the brink of safety following a 1-0 win over Norwich City.
Adam’s first goal since 24 November was enough to further ease the Potters’ relegation fears following last weekend’s 2-0 win at QPR.
Although Stoke have now hit the 40-point mark long-heralded by manager Tony Pulis as enough to guarantee safety, mathematically they cannot count their chickens just yet.
As for Norwich, six points clear of the bottom three, they too will still be looking over their shoulders, particularly with a vital game now looming large next Saturday against Aston Villa.
From the outset it was a disjointed showing by both teams with four bookings in 15 first half minutes setting the scrappy tone. When chances were created neither Asmir Begovic nor his opposite number Mark Bunn were unduly stretched.
After only 40 seconds City captain Ryan Shawcross looped an Adam corner onto the roof of the net, whilst the latter drilled a 35-yard free-kick just wide of the angle of crossbar and post a few minutes later.
In response Norwich’s Robert Snodgrass planted a header over the bar following a Russell Martin Cross before Bradley Johnson had the Canaries’ best chance of the game with a left-foot shot from the edge of the area after good work by Grant Holt and Kei Kamara.
The opportunity spurred Stoke into life with Adam at the heart of the action. The Scotland international’s corner on 23 minutes was struck on the volley by Cameron Jerome only for a group of players to clear the danger.
Following quick-fire bookings to Steven Nzonzi, Jerome, Holt and Crouch, there was a reprieve in the feistiness as the home support broke into a minute’s applause for former Stoke midfielder Paul Ware who passed away 10 days ago - at the age of 42 - after a long battle against a brain tumour.
It took only 50 seconds of the second half for the game to take its decisive twist. A long ball by Huth found the head of Crouch for a knockdown into the area. As Jerome blocked off Sebastien Bassong’s attempt to clear, Adam stole in for a simple left-foot shot underneath Bunn from seven yards.
With just three goals scored in their previous seven away games this year, Norwich were now up against it. Indeed the Canaries might have been dead and buried in the 63rd minute but for a miss by Crouch who failed to connect from four yards out with a low ball into the six-yard box from Adam.
Six minutes from time Crouch passed up another great chance from eight yards after Bunn had blocked a stinging drive from Nzonzi.
The gangly striker could afford a smile, but only just as in injury time Kamara planted a header inches over from a long throw in what was City’s only meaningful second-half attempt as Stoke deserved the win.
Stoke City manager Tony Pulis:
“We were back to the way we are and we were unfortunate in the end not have scored more goals. That’s two successive clean sheets and Norwich, who are a good side who work their socks off, have hardly had a chance all afternoon, so I am delighted with that.
“We’ve got what we wanted, 40 points, but we’ll wait and analyse what happens in the Aston Villa-Sunderland game on Monday evening, then take it from there.
“Hopefully, this is enough now to secure our sixth season in the Premier League, but we’re not mathematically safe yet and we certainly cannot relax until that is the case. A sixth season in the Premier League is a remarkable achievement for this football club when you consider just how far we have come over the past seven-and-a-half years.
“We were a mid-table Championship club going absolutely nowhere and getting crowds of 12-13,000 each week, and now look where we are. It’s a fantastic success story and everyone at the club should be proud of what we have done in such a short space of time.
“Not only have we stayed in the Premier League, but this is the first time that we have got close to getting in any sort of trouble, but we have still got three games remaining.”
Norwich City manager Chris Hughton:
“It was so disappointing to concede in the manner we did. We were up against a Stoke side at their most direct. That is how they are and you have to be able to cope with it. I felt we did in the first half. When we had our moments to drive from midfield and keep possession we didn’t. You hope that in the second half as the game opens up you can capitalise on that. We spoke about it at half-time that if anything they might get more direct.
“We didn’t create enough chances. They defended well and we didn’t make the most of our opportunities or the positions we were able to get in. We had some good crossing positions in and around their box and we did not make the most of it. There are the two sides of the game and you need to be strong and physical but create opportunities.”