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Stoke lack the goal fuel to accelerate beyond the relegation scrap

Saturday’s Premier League fixtures saw Stoke and Norwich dealt damaging defeats in matches they weren’t given a hope of winning, but their performances differed greatly in terms omens for the remaining games of the season. Norwich – 8/1 for relegation – were hard-done-by and competitive at the Emirates, whereas Stoke were easily seen off by a Manchester United on cruise control – Tony Pulis’ men have been cut to 4-1 for the drop.

The early part of the Potters’ season was characterised by a rigid defensive unit that conceded more than a single goal in just three league games before the turn of the year, but since then that discipline has well and truly deserted them with just one clean sheet kept in their last 13 matches.

The defensive downturn may have arrived like an unwelcome Christmas present, but the distinct lack of goals in the side has been a season-long malaise, with Stoke notching more than once in just eight of their 33 league games this term.

Of Stoke’s remaining five games, four see them pitted against adversaries themselves battling relegation in QPR, Norwich, Sunderland and Southampton. Of that quartet, only Norwich will be taken on within the confines of the Britannia Stadium – desperate news for a side that have recorded just two away wins against top flight opposition since the beginning of 2012.

On the face of it Norwich are on a very similar run of form, with just one league win in the calendar year, but where Stoke have lost six of their last seven games, Delia’s boys are more often to be found collecting points one at a time – six of their last 10 games have ended all square.

Dainty three-point-shaped morsels Reading will be presented to the Canaries this Saturday. If they can secure a win then 38 points will be theirs and with it survival, so long as they can boil a point or two from their final four fixtures.

Ultimately it’s Norwich’s stubborn refusal to be turned over at home that should see them over the line. Of their final five matches three are at Carrow Road, where they have lost just three times this season.