BRADLEY Johnson scored a superb header to see off Stoke City 1-0 in a hard-fought Barclays Premier League clash at Carrow Road.
Johnson met a free-kick from Robert Snodgrass with an excellent glancing backwards header into the top corner in the 44th minute for the only goal of the game.
Injuries to Javier Garrido and Michael Turner forced the Canaries to reshuffle their defence twice in the second half but the whole team worked their socks off to match Stoke tackle for tackle and hold firm for a clean sheet and three more priceless Premier League points.
It’s now three wins out of four for Chris Hughton’s resurgent Canaries and after the game a delighted Norwich boss told Canaries Player: “It’s satisfying. It was a real tough game, and irrespective of whether you play Stoke home or away, they are a team of quality.
“They play a very effective style of football that is difficult to deal with.
“For me the most pleasing thing is the clean sheet. To change the defence with injuries to Turner and Garrido was a blow, and it disrupted the back four, but for my players to get the clean sheet was great.
“You have to be fortunate at times that the ball bounces in the right place and you’ve got to make sure you defend well and stop the supply against Stoke. It’s tough to do that for 90 minutes.
“We could have made life easier for ourselves because we had a couple of chances but I’m delighted.”
Before the game Hughton made two changes to the side which drew 1-1 at Aston Villa in the Canaries’ last Premier League outing, with Robert Snodgrass coming in for Elliott Bennett on the right and Steven Whittaker at right-back in place of the injured Russell Martin.
Norwich made a bright start and the ever-lively Alex Tettey had the game’s first shot in anger, a long-range effort which spun off the back of a defender and behind for a corner.
At the other end Charlie Adam tried his luck with a deft low shot which curled narrowly wide of John Ruddy’s post in the eighth minute.
After a quiet spell the game came to life in the 24th minute as Pilkington had two chances inside two minutes, his first saved by the legs of Asmir Begovic and his second from the edge of the area more comfortably claimed by the Stoke ‘keeper.
Soon after the game’s first yellow card was produced by referee Andre Marriner, shown to Charlie Adam of Stoke as he tumbled to the ground a touch too easily as he was challenged by Garrido.
Five minutes before the break a second Stoke player was booked, Dean Whitehead rightly cautioned for a foul on Johnson after the referee had initially played a good advantage.
The turning point of an otherwise tame first half came just a minute before the break, as Anthony Wilkinson became the third Stoke player booked for bringing down Robert Snodgrass in full flight on the right flank.
Snodgrass picked himself up and curled in a great free-kick which Johnson met with a superb glancing backwards header into the top corner, giving Begovic no chance.
In first-half injury time Pilkington played an excellent ball across the six-yard area but Snodgrass arrived a fraction too late to turn it home.
HALF-TIME: Norwich City 1, Stoke City 0
Within a minute of the restart Hoolahan tried an outrageous lob from just inside the halfway line, forcing a back-pedalling Begovic to tip it behind for a corner.
At the other end John Ruddy had to be alert to parry away a well-struck effort from Walters in the 52nd minute. In the build-up to that Stoke attack Norwich defender Michael Turner picked up a knock and he was replaced by Ryan Bennett.
In the 57th minute Tettey was booked for a foul on Charlie Adam, while three minutes later Stoke made their first change, Matthew Etherington coming on for Michael Kightly.
There were more changes in the 70th minute as Kenwyne Jones came on for Walters for Stoke while Garrido became Norwich’s second defensive casualty to injury and was replaced by Leon Barnett.
A minute later the irrepressible Tettey drilled a useful effort narrowly wide from 25 yards as the Canaries looked for a second to give them some more comfort in the game’s closing stages.
At the other end Jones had a firm header saved by Ruddy while Crouch tried an acrobatic overhead kick which flew over the bar.
On 77 minutes the visitors had their best chance yet as Jones fired an angled shot a foot or so wide of the far post through a crowded penalty area.
Stoke boss Tony Pulis made his last throw of the dice with six minutes of normal time remaining, Glenn Whelan replacing Andy Wilkinson – City responding by bringing on Steve Morison for Hoolahan.
FULL-TIME: Norwich City 1, Stoke City 0
CITY: Ruddy, Whittaker, Johnson, Bassong, Turner (R.Bennett 54), Snodgrass, Holt (c), Pilkington, Hoolahan (Morison 86), Garrido (Barnett 70), Tettey.
SUBS NOT USED: Bunn, Howson, Jackson, E.Bennett.
STOKE: Begovic, Cameron, Huth, N’Zonzi, Adam, Shawcross (c), Whitehead, Walters (Jones 70), Kightly (Etherington 60), Crouch, Wilkinson (Whelan 84).
SUBS NOT USED: Sorensen, Palacios, Upson, Jerome.
REFEREE: Andre Marriner