Premier League | Carrow Road | Sat 8 Mar | 3pm
A tale of two cities, erm, Citys – and another relegation six-pointer.
As the season ticks down to its final 10 games, there's much talk of the C-word ahead of this one. Not the rude C-word, of course – we're talking here about Commitment. Commitment with a capital C.
- Aston Villa 4-1 Norwich (Prem)
- Norwich 1-0 Spurs (Prem)
- West Ham 2-0 Norwich (Prem)
- Norwich 0-0 Man City (Prem)
- Cardiff 2-1 Norwich (Prem)
- Stoke 1-0 Arsenal (Prem)
- Man City 1-0 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 1-1 Swansea (Prem)
- So'ton 2-2 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 2-1 Man Utd (Prem)
Stoke had commitment in spades last weekend at the Britannia, beating Arsenal with the type of robust, revert-to-type performance that terrifies the Gunners. If anything, they had too much commitment – particularly Charlie Adam – but it helped them edge a tight game and creep three points closer to safety.
By contrast, Norwich's commitment has been strongly questioned after their cowardly implosion at Villa Park. A goal up after three minutes but 4-1 down by the break, the Canaries spent the whole of the second half defending what they had and praying for the whistle.
It wasn't so much the fact they lost – Paul Lambert has now won four and drawn one of the five games against the club he left in 2012 – it was more the manner of their spineless surrender. Chris Hughton has called for a response. A growing number of Norwich fans have called again for his head. All involved know Saturday's game is one they have to win, or at least definitely not lose.
Looking for positives, Norwich will pray they can follow up a heavy defeat with a reinvigorating victory. They have previous here, having beaten West Ham and West Brom straight after the 7-0 and 5-1 humblings at Manchester City and Liverpool this season.
It may not be so simple this time – Man City and Liverpool away were games no Norwich fan would have expected to take points from. Against Villa, Norwich knew the importance of taking something home with them. Their next three games – Stoke and Swansea at home, sandwiching Sunderland away – will go a long way towards determining their fate, particularly as their last four games read Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Despite sitting only two points better off, Stoke have a little more forward momentum. They haven't won on the road since late August but the Arsenal game will have reminded them of their strengths. And while Mark Hughes is evolving the team along slightly more aesthetic lines than his predecessor, he is no stranger to the more physical side of the game.
A win at Carrow Road could go a long way to securing Stoke's safety for another season, particularly with March then bringing three more winnable games in Villa away and West Ham and Hull at home.
Joseph Yobo should feature, having withdrawn from Nigeria's friendly with the USA and saved himself the jet-lag. Ricky van Wolfswinkel is expected to return from the minor knee knock that kept him out at Villa Park, but Leroy Fer is out for weeks. For Stoke, Charlie Adam starts the first of a three-game ban for dancing on Olivier Giroud but Peter Odemwingie should be back after missing the Arsenal game with a calf injury.
Player to watch: Robert Snodgrass (Norwich)
The hosts have scored just 21 times this season, 12 times at Carrow Road. Of those 21 goals, only 6 have come from strikers – top scorer Gary Hooper has 5, record signing Van Wolfswinkel hasn't scored since the opening day against Everton. So a greater burden than he'd want falls on the shoulders of Snodgrass, who led by example last time against Spurs. His slick goal secured the points, but it was his influence and industry that caught the eye – Snodgrass's 5 shots on goal were almost half the number Norwich mustered all game, while no City player completed more passes in the attacking third (18 of 24) than he, nor recovered the ball (9 times) as regularly. If Norwich are to eke out another three points, Snodgrass will need to be central to it all.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Stoke 0-1 Norwich (Prem, Sep 13)
- Stoke 1-0 Norwich (Prem, Apr 13)
- Norwich 1-0 Stoke (Prem, Nov 12)
- Stoke 1-0 Norwich (Prem, Mar 12)
- Norwich 1-1 Stoke (Prem, Aug 11)
Under more pressure than most managers at the wrong end of the table, Hughton's job at Norwich was said to have been saved by the 1-0 home victory over Tottenham last month.
That deserved win may have bought him time but the nature of the Villa defeat hasn't strengthened his hand. But don't panic. "We know a home win this Saturday and results going our way changes things and the mood once again," he said.
"There are 10 sides with not many points between them so we need to be the side who can put a series of results together to break away from that."
Even so, it's hard to avoid the feeling that only by securing another season in the Premier League will Hughton survive – and even that may not be enough. By contrast, Hughes is a man under little pressure, though he is puzzled as to how his team can raise their game to beat Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United but struggle against teams lower down the table – including a 1-0 loss to Norwich. "We're not as accomplished as when we go up against the top teams," he said, or maybe guessed. "We need to pick our moments."
Facts and figures
- The last 5 league meetings have seen just 6 goals with the last 4 all having exactly 1 strike.
- Norwich have drawn the first half in 7 consecutive home games and 17 of their 33 home matches since the start of last season have had fewer than 2 goals.
- Stoke have suffered ten 0-1 defeats in their 33 away matches since the start of last season.
- Stoke have lost 5 of their 8 trips to bottom-six teams since the start of last season with four 0-1 losses.
The vidiprinter won't need the capitals for this one. The first goal will likely be the only goal. Stoke to end their away day woes. 0-1.