A SCRAPPY encounter at the Britannia Stadium saw Stoke City run out 1-0 winners over the Canaries.
It was a game with few clear-cut opportunities for either side, and one which saw the Canaries forced into a battling, defensive display by Stoke's robust style.
And it was former West Ham winger Matthew Etherington who secured the points for the hosts, evading City challenges on 72 minutes to find himself in on goal and send a swerving near-post effort past Ruddy and into the empty net.
There was some controversy surrounding the move which led to the goal however, with City boss Paul Lambert saying the throw-in which started Stoke's attack should have been awarded to the Canaries, a suggestion both Sky TV and BBC interviewers suggested their footage confirmed was correct.
Lambert told Canaries Player: "We had to combat them, and I thought we did that really well.
"It was our throw-in for their goal, the referee indicated that it was a Norwich ball, but the assistant has changed his mind. The referee gave it to us, he admitted it to me after the game, but he said the assistant was in a better position.
"The lads were great. There weren't many chances from either side, and it was a hard game, but I thought that decision was maybe the wrong one.
"Stoke are hard to play against, you know what's coming with all the throw ins and corners, but the team did everything we asked other than get the goal."
Before the game three changes were made by Paul Lambert to the side that played so well against Manchester United last weekend.
After completing 90 minutes in midweek for the reserves, Jonny Howson was named in the starting line-up for his Canary debut. Fellow January signing Ryan Bennett was on the bench. Russell Martin made a return to defence after illness and Elliott Bennett was also named in the team to face Stoke City - the hosts seeing defender Robert Huth make a return having completed a three-game suspension.
Stoke won a corner in the first minute of the game but City comfortably cleared their lines and looked to press through midfield through Howson and Bradley Johnson.
On nine minutes the hosts had the first shot on target, Jonathan Walters testing Ruddy with a stinging drive but City's number one parried then collected.
Two minutes later Howson broke down a home move and City attacked through Bennett on the right who did well to chase his own ball as he was forced out wide but his final ball into the box was too strong in the gusty wind around the Britannia and went out far side.
Stoke put the City defence under pressure through a succession of Ryan Shotton long throws midway through the half but these were repelled through some good defensive headers and awards of a free-kick as former Canary Peter Crouch was adjudged to have fouled his marker.
Howson picked up the first booking of the game on 21 minutes for a foul on Glenn Whelan - the midfielder catching the Stoke man late after he broke up a promising Canary move down the right.
Three minutes later Ruddy had to be quick off his line to get down to a low Whitehead shot after he made a break and was found by a neat ball through from Shotton. The Canaries then had an opportunity themselves when a Shawcross clearance deflected off Surman and looked to be falling into a favourable area for Holt to race in, but Begovic was alert to the danger and fell onto the ball.
Stoke were forced into an early change when Andy Wilkinson limped off to be replaced by Jermaine Pennant.
On the half-hour a Pilkington free-kick from the far right was whipped in to the back stick where Holt was lurking, but although his header was on target Begovic was perfectly placed at his far post to catch.
Ten minutes before the break Holt had an opportunity to shoot from distance which he took but his effort was well wide of the Stoke goal.
Ruddy made a great point blank save from Crouch as the ball fell kindly for the England international in the six-yard box on 43 minutes. And just before the interval Pennant had an opportunity to put in a dangerous cross from the right but it was too strong for Crouch to gather and the teams went in even at half-time.
Half-time: Stoke City 0, Norwich City 0
Paul Lambert made his first change at the break replacing Pilkington with Simeon Jackson.
Stoke had the better of the early possession but it was the Canaries with the first shot of the half on target through Elliott Bennett ,who worked himself an opportunity on the edge of the box but couldn't get enough power to trouble Begovic, who made a comfortable save.
City were awarded with a free-kick about 25 yards out from the Stoke goal after a Canary passing move ended in a foul on Grant Holt. Surman stepped up with a curling effort but again Begovic was equal to it.
Tony Pulis made a double substitution up front with 20 minutes left, Walters and Crouch replaced with Cameron Jerome and Kenwyne Jones.
The Canaries were finding it difficult to get any fluidity to their game and unfortunately two minutes later it was Stoke who took the lead through Matthew Etherington, who skipped past a couple of challenges on the right to hit a swerving shot to beat Ruddy at the near post.
Aaron Wilbraham came on for Jonny Howson for City's second substitution of the afternoon. And this was swiftly followed moments later by David Fox replacing Bradley Johnson.
City were proving their own worst enemies losing possession in key areas and Kenwyne Jones went close to doubling Stoke's lead wih six minutes left after the Canaries were hit on the break, but thankfully the striker was crowded out and his eventual shot deflected away.
It had proved a scrappy game with few opportunities for either side but Etherington's controversial goal proved decisive and claimed the three points for Tony Pulis' side.
Final score: Stoke City 1, Norwich City 0
STOKE: Begovic, Wilkinson (Pennant 25), Shawcross (c), Huth, Wilson, Shotton, Whelan, Whitehead, Etherington, Walters (Jerome 70), Crouch (Jones 70). Subs not used: Sorensen, Fuller, Diao, Upson.
NORWICH: Ruddy, Martin, Johnson (Fox 79), Whitbread, Holt (c), Surman, Pilkington (Jackson 46), E. Bennett, Ward, Howson (Wilbraham 75), Naughton. Subs not used: Steer, Morison, Hoolahan, R. Bennett.