The big screen at the Britannia Stadium was advertising Stoke City's end-of-season awards dinner during yesterday's match. Whoever is tasked with compiling the highlights package for that evening's entertainment will have their work cut out but at least Stoke will be able to raise a glass to another season in the top flight.
Stoke's narrow, if deserved victory, lifted them three places to 12th and on to the 40-point safety mark, ensuring a sixth successive Premier League campaign in 2013/14. It was a victory fittingly secured by a goal moments after the restart that carried the hallmarks of Stoke's route-one approach as Peter Crouch flicked on Ryan Shawcross's long punt forward and Charlie Adam latched on to it, touching the ball past Steven Whittaker and then burying a low shot past Mark Bunn. Adam raised his arms in the air and looked skywards as he celebrated his first goal since the death of his father, Charlie Adam Snr, in December.
It will have brought relief for manager Tony Pulis (below) who has received unprecedented criticism during Stoke's post-Christmas slump and this week denied speculation that he was ready to walk away from the club. The Welshman did not comment afterwards, leaving the post-match media duties to his assistant, David Kemp, who played down the negative mood, saying: "[The criticism] has not affected him or anybody else. We just get on with it and that is the life of a football manager." Kemp also defended a style of play that, when not producing results, has little else to commend it. "The stadium is full every week," he said. "I like the style of play today, I enjoyed it last week," he added referring to the win at QPR.
In truth, the first half was poor. The form book had suggested this would be no classic – like Stoke, Norwich entered the game with only two wins this calendar year – and it lived down to expectations. Norwich winger Robert Snodgrass sent an early header over, Cameron Jerome saw a goalbound volley deflect to safety off team-mate Steven Nzonzi, and that was about it. The frustration seemed to get to both Nzonzi and Jerome, each picking up bookings for rash challenges, but the game changed with Adam's intervention moments after the restart. The Scot has not had the best of times since arriving from Liverpool and did not start a game in February and March, but he showed his class with his goal.
"The goal released the tension a bit," said Kemp, and more goals should have followed as Stoke raised the tempo. Adam teed up Crouch with a ball across the six-yard box but the big striker completely missed his kick. Nzonzi then saw a powerful drive parried by Bunn; Crouch steered the rebound wide but would have been offside anyway.
At the other end, despite the introduction of Wes Hoolahan to add some craft, Norwich did not force a save out of Asmir Begovic. Their manager, Chris Hughton, said: "The frustration is [with] the goal we conceded. We knew what we had to do, we knew they would play very direct. The timing of the goal really hurt us."
Norwich remain on 38 points and cannot relax yet, although Hughton is hopeful of easing their lingering relegation fears in the upcoming home fixtures against Aston Villa and West Brom. "It is in our own hands, we need to make the most of the two home games."
Stoke (4-4-2): Begovic; Shotton, Shawcross, Huth, Wilkinson (Cameron, 61); Adam, Whelan (Whitehead, 65), Nzonzi, Walters; Jerome (Etherington, 79), Crouch.
Norwich (4-2-3-1): Bunn; Martin, R Bennett, Bassong (Pilkington, 86), Whittaker; Tettey (Hoolahan, 67), Johnson; Kamara, Howson, Snodgrass (E Bennett, 64); Holt.
Referee: A Taylor
Man of the match: Adam (Stoke)
Match rating: 5/10