Aaron Ramsey brace helps Norwich end winless run with Stoke scalp
Norwich turned in an improved second-half performance to beat Stoke 3-1 and record their first win in seven Championship games.
The Canaries were below par for long periods but stuck to their task and followed up a goal late in the first half with two in the second to get their promotion campaign back on track.
Teenage midfielder Aaron Ramsey was the star, scoring twice to put Norwich 2-0 up in a match which could have gone either way, while substitute Gabriel Sara added a third before Nick Powell fired home a late consolation for the visitors.
Both sides struggled to string passes together in a poor first half, with the home fans becoming increasingly frustrated as the game remained goalless.
But they finally had something to shout about in the 38th minute when Norwich took the lead from their first clear-cut chance of the afternoon.
Liam Gibbs found Teemu Pukki after bursting through a congested midfield and the Finnish frontman turned Ben Wilmot one way and then another before firing in a powerful shot which keeper Joe Bursik did well to push away. But, unluckily for the visitors, the ball fell kindly for Ramsey, with the on-loan Aston Villa midfielder sliding his shot into the gaping net to ease the tension at Carrow Road.
It was a goal out of the blue for a misfiring home side although Stoke could hardly complain after barely mustering a shot themselves in a tepid opening period.
However, Alex Neil’s side might have got themselves back on level terms immediately, with Jacob Brown missing a close-range header from Tariqe Fosu’s driven left-wing cross.
Norwich went close again two minutes after the restart as a Isaac Hayden snap-shot from inside the box almost caught out Bursik, who was grateful to grab a spinning ball on his goalline at the second attempt.
At the other end Brown fired into the side-netting and substitute Powell sent a free header from a Fosu cross wastefully wide as the disjointed nature of proceedings continued.
But just as Stoke were beginning to threaten a comeback, Ramsey grabbed his second goal with 18 minutes left to calm the home nerves.
It was a goal out of keeping with a scrappy game, with Ramsey playing a superb one-two with Pukki inside a packed penalty area before beating Bursik with an assured finish.
With Stoke having to push more men forward there were then gaps for Norwich to exploit and Bursik made two good stops to deny Sara and Todd Cantwell before the former made it 3-0 after 77 minutes.
Bursik was able to palm away a shot from Marcelino Nunez after a sublime Cantwell pass had put the Chilean in but fellow substitute Sara was on hand to tuck away the loose ball.
Angus Gunn made a couple of good reaction saves late on but could do nothing to prevent Stoke from pulling one back in injury time, Powell finishing with aplomb when the ball fell kindly for him after a late break.