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    Stoke City 3-1 Norwich City: O'Neil Sees Red As A Hotly Contested Game Heats Up A Cold Night In Stoke

    The Britannia Stadium is traditionally a difficult place for opposition teams to visit, particularly as the position of the ground opens it up to all of the elements the British weather has to offer. Wednesday night was no different as Stoke City hosted Norwich City in freezing cold conditions, as Staffordshire prepared itself for the threat of snow. The Canaries were looking to continue a run of form that included three wins in their last four league outings, whilst Stoke aimed to keep in the top half and within touching distance of a Europa League place.

    Both teams made a number of changes last weekend in their respective FA Cup matches, but Mark Hughes and Alex Neil selected more familiar line-ups for this encounter. Key players Jack Butland, Marko Arnautovic and Bojan came back into the Stoke team, whilst playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri was unavailable after picking up a hamstring injury on Tuesday. Dieumerci Mbokani, Wes Hoolahan, Robbie Brady and Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe were all selected for Norwich, as Alex Neil picked an attacking looking line-up after he saw his side get hammered by Manchester City on Saturday. Matt Jarvis was fit enough for the bench as he continued his recovery from a knee injury.

    Each set of fans would have been hoping for plenty of entertainment to entice them out on such a bitterly cold night and it was the hosts who almost drew first blood. Joselu chipped a ball over the Norwich defence to find Marko Arnautovic who did not hit his shot as cleanly as he would have liked but forced Declan Rudd to tip the effort round the post. Norwich, who have been guilty of sitting very deep defensively in recent weeks, were not afraid to get forward and Jonny Howson had their first effort on 16 minutes but his long range effort flew harmlessly over the crossbar. Stoke came back with a couple of half chances of their own, though Jonathan Walters could only poke wide from an Arnautovic cross and Ryan Shawcross headed an ambitious effort over the crossbar in a cagey opening quarter. 

    The Austrian Arnautovic looked to be the most dangerous player on the pitch and he almost created the first goal of the game on 26 minutes. His excellent through ball found Joselu who dinked his effort over Rudd, only to see his shot bounce past the far post. If Arnautovic looked confident at one end, Jack Butland was extremely nervous at the other end. The Stoke goalkeeper was struggling with his kicking and a third poor clearance of the half fell to Wes Hoolahan who flighted his effort wide. Yet the England goalkeeper found his form moments later when he palmed away Ryan Bennett's half volley from the edge of the box.

    The key first goal looked as if it could go either way until Stoke were handed a major advantage on the half hour mark. With the ball running out of play and Ibrahim Afellay going nowhere, Gary O'Neil inexplicably went lunging into the back of the Dutch midfielder's legs to earn himself a straight red card. Crazy from such an experienced player and certainly not what Alex Neil was hoping for. With Stoke's wealth of attacking talent, the Potters definitely did not require any encouragement to get forward as Jon Walters fizzed a 20 yard strike over the crossbar. The visitors managed to keep the scoreline goalless to give Alex Neil an opportunity to reorganise his side at the break. 

    Mark Hughes would have been disappointed that his team only hit the target once from seven efforts and his side came out flying in the second half. Jon Walters had an early effort blocked, before breaking the deadlock just four minutes into the second half. A beautifully whipped in cross from Arnautovic, between the Norwich defence and their goalkeeper, found the striker who slid in at the back post to leave Norwich with all sorts of problems. The hosts continued to press, but it was the visitors who struck back almost immediately. Just six minutes after Stoke opened the scoring, Wes Hoolahan found Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe who chested the ball down for Jonny Howson to hit a screamer past Jack Butland from the edge of the box.

    Both managers responded to the dramatic start to the second half, as the quiet Bojan was replaced by Peter Odemwingie and Nathan Redmond and Matt Jarvis came on for Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe and Wes Hoolahan to provide the visitors with more width. It was an ambitious move from Alex Neil and he may have regretted it instantly as Stoke restored their advantage. A poor Sebastian Bassong header found Afellay, who knocked the ball to Joselu before the Spaniard turned and smashed a second for Stoke from 20 yards into the bottom corner. 

    The visitors looked to respond as the game entered the final 20 minutes and Nathan Redmond fired a shot wide from Dieumerci Mbokani's pass. Norwich had one last throw of the dice by bringing on former Stoke forward Cameron Jerome for Dieumerci Mbokani, whilst Mark Hughes looked to protect his lead by replacing the excellent Marko Arnautovic with Marco van Ginkel. Yet it was Stoke who struck again in the 78th minute. An Alex Tettey foul on Joselu gave the hosts a free-kick that was whipped in dangerously by Afellay, only for Ryan Bennett to head into his own goal. The outstanding Joselu was replaced by Peter Crouch to a standing ovation and the big England striker still had time to sting the hands of Declan Rudd with a volley from Afellay's corner. The hosts continued to press, but Norwich kept them to three as Alex Neil was left wondering what could have been if Gary O'Neil had not been so reckless.

    The victory takes Stoke to the dizzy heights of 7th before they host top of the table Arsenal on Sunday. Norwich remain 15th, five points above the relegation zone, going into a crucial game at Bournemouth on Saturday. 

    Man of the Match: Ibrahim Afellay
    The former Barcelona midfielder took up a deeper role with the absence of Geoff Cameron, but was the man who tempted Gary O'Neil into his red card offence, before creating two of Stoke's three goals. 

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    Item Reviewed: Stoke City 3-1 Norwich City: O'Neil Sees Red As A Hotly Contested Game Heats Up A Cold Night In Stoke Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Chris Lincoln
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