STOKE CITY reached the magical 40-point mark manager Tony Pulis believes will secure them a sixth season of Barclays Premier League football . . . thanks to a solitary goal from Charlie Adam in their game against Norwich City.
The Scottish international midfielder fired home a 46th minute winner to give Pulis’ men their second successive victory, although they had some nail-biting moments in the closing stages after missing some fantastic chances.
Record signing Peter Crouch, who helped set up the chance for Adam, could have got his name on the scoresheet as he failed to make contact with a point blank range effort, while Cameron Jerome and Steven Nzonzi also went close.
Norwich posed little threat going forward themselves, although holding only a one-goal lead made for a nervous time at the end.
However, the Potters held on for a victory which takes them to 40 points and lifts them to twelfth spot, within touching distance of the top ten, but just as importantly eight points clear of the bottom three with a far better goal difference.
Pulis had been forced to make one change to the side which had earned a morale-boosting win at Loftus Road with Wilson’s hamstring strain ruling him out and as expected his place went to Wilkinson who slotted in at left back.
The Potters made a positive start as Walters’ run down the left earned them a corner which Adam swung in to the near post where it was met by a glancing header, but his flick was too strong and landed on the roof of the net.
There was further encouragement when City were awarded a free kick for a foul on Crouch as he tried to release a pass to Jerome, but although Adam struck it well from fully 25 yards out, it was fractionally too high to trouble Bunn.
City were given a scare in the seventh minute when Kamara paved way for Martin to swing over a cross from the right and Snodgrass somehow managed to nip in between Shawcross and Shotton before planting his header over the bar.
After a quiet passage of play, the Potters carved out an opening of their own when Adam hoisted a high ball into the box which found Crouch peeling off his marker, but his header bounced comfortably into the arms of Bunn.
Midway through the first half, Jerome was desperately unlucky not to put City in front as he met Adam’s deep inswinging corner with a goalbound shot on the volley, but much to his frustration it cannoned off Nzonzi and out to safety.
Two flashpoints in quick succession led to first Nzonzi and then Jerome picking up yellow cards, the midfielder lunging in at Kamara after losing possession before his colleague was penalised for catching Bunn as he chased a through ball.
City then strung their best move of the game together with Whelan and Nzonzi combining to release Shotton on the overlap, but although he delivered an excellent cross into the six yard box, it was Bennett who was there to head clear.
By and large though, the play was quite scrappy, reflected in the fact that Holt and Crouch became further players to pick up yellow cards.
After being restricted to one or two opportunities in the first half, City broke the deadlock immediately after the restart.
A long ball forward from Shawcross was headed on by Crouch and it found Adam bursting into the box where he headed the ball neatly into his path before rifling a shot past the helpless Bunn from close range to put his side in front.
Adam then created another opportunity to give the Potters a two-goal advantage when he rounded a series of neat passes with a low shot from the edge of the box which drifted past Bunn’s left hand post much to the ‘keeper’s relief.
After City had suffered an injury scare when Whelan went down with a groin problem, the change that they eventually had to make saw Wilkinson hobble off with a back problem to be replaced by Cameron who went to left back.
Moments after that change, City should have gone two goals to the good as Jerome charged the ball down and set Adam away whose low cross found Crouch running in for what should have been the simplest of tap-ins, but he failed to make contact.
Begovic was called upon to make a number of important interceptions coming off his line as Norwich showed more urgency in their bid to get back in the game, but the Bosnian’s handling was sound when put to the test on each of those occasions.
Another opportunity to finish Norwich off was created with five minutes remaining as Etherington’s cross into the box saw Walters shield the ball and tee up Nzonzi who unleashed a fierce drive which was brilliantly saved by the diving Bunn.
Although Crouch should have buried the follow-up with the goal at his mercy, a linesman’s flag spared his blushes as the ball flew over the bar.
With the game drifting into four minutes of injury-time, Norwich had a chance from a long throw-in as Ryan Bennett rose to meet it with a twisting header which just cleared the bar.