Svensson gives Norwich just enough to stay ahead

Norwich City 1 Stoke City 0
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The Independent Online

Norwich City took another significant step towards the Premiership and retained their place at the top of the First Division after a goal from Mathias Svensson proved enough to overcome play-off hopefuls Stoke City in a fiery encounter at Carrow Road.

Norwich City took another significant step towards the Premiership and retained their place at the top of the First Division after a goal from Mathias Svensson proved enough to overcome play-off hopefuls Stoke City in a fiery encounter at Carrow Road.

Defeat to Crystal Palace a week previously had raised concerns about Norwich's stamina, but the determined manner of a convincing victory over Stoke was enough to leave their manager Nigel Worthington increasingly confident for the remainder of the season.

"It was a tremendous performance," Worthington said. "Overall I was very pleased. Stoke are very strong and tenacious but we defended well when we needed to and the energy from our midfield was outstanding. There are 24 points left to play for and we'll be trying to get as many as possible out of that."

A red-hot atmosphere, aided by a vocal travelling support in the face of gloomy conditions promoted a combative game in which Norwich played their usual attacking football while Stoke sat back and played on the break, using the physical Ade Akinbiyi as their target-man.

Norwich's leading scorer, Darren Huckerby, moved to the left wing in a bid to bolster the home side's creativity and, after 18 minutes, he forced Ed de Goey into an outstanding reflex save with a sweetly-struck volley from the edge of the box. Huckerby was again on hand to test De Goey from 18 yards on the 23-minute mark, this time the Dutch goalkeeper was beaten but was thankful the effort drifted inches wide.

Norwich went ahead in the final seconds of the first-half. Huckerby threaded a neat ball to Damien Francis on the left and he squared for Svensson, otherwise anonymous, to blast into the roof of the net.

Huckerby was handed a golden opportunity to extend the lead from the penalty spot four minutes after the restart when Gary Holt was felled by the former Norwich player and Stoke's captain for the day, Darel Russell. Huckerby placed his spot-kick but De Goey, diving full-length to his left, tipped the ball to safety.

The tension was relieved briefly in the 54th minute when the referee, Mike Riley, who booked ten, was forced to consult his fourth official, apparently unable to believe he had yet to flourish a red card for a repeat offender.

When the game recommenced, Stoke pushed forward and came agonisingly close to claiming a barely deserved 77th-minute equaliser. Only a superb double reaction-stop from Norwich's goalkeeper Robert Green denied Gerry Taggart's powerful header and Akinbiyi's follow up.

The result was Stoke's second defeat of the week but their manager, Tony Pulis, felt his side had only been a fingertip save away from salvaging an unlikely point from the game. "They were good and controlled the game for long periods, but I thought it was a goal when Gerry [Taggart] went up for the header," he said. "But we're getting the most out of the squad we have and need to keep on pushing ourselves."

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