Huckerby strike repays Norwich's investment

Stoke City 1 Norwich City 1
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The Independent Football

On a reported £17,000 a week, Darren Huckerby will not be scoring goals cheaply for Norwich City. If they come regularly, though, they could be worth the sizeable backing the manager, Nigel Worthington, has been given by his board.

Successive Carrow Road incumbents have had to steer a tight ship but the decision to land Huckerby, Peter Crouch and Kevin Harper all at once on loan from the Premiership is a clear indication that a traditionally prudent board have their sights set upwards.

Stoke City are another First Division club with lofty ambitions these days yet, despite a second goal in five nights from Gifton Noel-Williams, they were happiest with a point from a Saturday tea-time game of two contrasting halves.

The former Watford striker deftly turned in a 35th-minute cross from Ade Akinbiyi, who made his first start since his survival-clinching goal on loan on the last day of last season.

Akinbiyi was given a rousing ovation from the home supporters and said: "It has been a long while since I've had a reception like that." Spells with Leicester and Crystal Palace have put ugly blots on his CV.

He might well have scored in a first half in which his original club, Norwich, were poor, though out of luck when Crouch's header rolled up Chris Greenacre's hand on the line on the officials' blind side. But if Stoke sensed another prime scalp after beating Sunderland in midweek, they were given a second-half chasing.

The replacement of Norwich's Damien Francis, playing against the side he spurned in the summer, at half-time by Phil Mulryne proved inspirational. Mulryne improved the quality of service to the forwards and, after several fine saves from Ed de Goey, Huckerby squeezed in his first Canaries goal.

When the former Chelsea goalkeeper then clawed out Mulryne's curling free-kick, a winner beckoned for the visitors. Unfortunately for them, the rebound fell to Craig Fleming who, making his 250th appearance for the club, has not scored for three years. The central defender shot over from three yards.

Goals: Noel-Williams (36) 1-0; Huckerby (67) 1-1.

Stoke City (3-5-2): De Goey; Thomas, Williams, Hall (Kommons, 83); Russell, Greenacre (Iwelumo, 74), Eustace, Andrews, Clarke; Akinbiyi (Neal, 65), Noel-Williams. Substitutes not used: Cutler, Hoekstra.

Norwich City (4-4-2): Green; Edworthy, Mackay, Fleming, Drury; Harper (Roberts, 80), Francis (Mulryne, h-t), Holt, Easton (McVeigh, 61); Crouch, Huckerby. Substitutes not used: Crichton, Notman.

Referee: P Joslin (Nottinghamshire).

Bookings: Stoke Andrews, Iwelumo.

Man of the match: Mulryne.

Attendance: 10,672.