When your strikers look like they need a satellite navigation system to locate the net, the last thing you need is for your most trusted defenders to start losing their heads. So Chris Hughton did well to hide his dismay at the way Norwich City surrendered two valuable points here.
Bradley Johnson had nodded Norwich towards a victory that would have lifted Hughton's team further away from the bottom three, but that lead was relinquished when the captain, Sébastien Bassong, witlessly brought down the Stoke substitute John Guidetti to concede a penalty that Jonathan Walters converted. It was a worrying error from Bassong, a week after his own-goal in the damaging 4-1 loss at Aston Villa, but Hughton is not about to lambast his captain as Norwich enter the tensest part of the season only four points above the relegation zone.
"It was an incident that allowed the opposition to get a penalty but overall, as captain and as an individual, he has done well for us," Hughton said. "By the standards he has set he probably didn't have his best game at Villa but [against Stoke], looking at his overall performance, I have not been disappointed with him. And he is a big character and we need as many characters as we can get."
Norwich are the lowest placed Premier League team yet to oust their manager this season and there is a suspicion that will change soon: either because Norwich will clamber out of trouble or Hughton will be sacrificed. A look at the fixture list might help determine which seems more likely – five of Norwich's remaining nine games are away, where they have been wretched all season, and two of their four home matches are against Liverpool and Arsenal. "I think it is in our hands," Hughton said. "It's only us that can get us out of this. And that will be away from home and at home. Our endeavours have got to be to put ourselves in a position where we can win away from home."
That will entail scoring, something the club's four strikers have not done in the league this year. All were signed by Hughton but Johan Elmander and Luciano Becchio have yet to score this season, while the £8.5m recruit Ricky van Wolfswinkel has gone 20 matches without a goal and looked lost against Stoke. Gary Hooper has been firing blanks since Boxing Day and began on the bench against Stoke. Norwich's lack of attacking threat is the main reason their season has been generally seen as a joyless slog.
Although Hughton concedes that Norwich should be doing better, he cannot help noticing that his team are close to those of managers who are perceived to have performed well this season – they are only one point behind Hull City, for instance, and two behind Stoke.
"We are not the only ones in this fight," he said. "There are other teams who are not playing at the level that they would like. The pressure comes with the job but there are teams very close to us who are deemed to have done reasonably well. They are thought to have done OK and they are one only point or two points away from us. The reason for that, I don't know.
"We haven't been in the position in the league that we want to, but we have always been only a few points away from mid-table or better, so there is always something to grasp and to use to encourage everybody," Hughton said.
As Hughton contends with speculation about his job security, Mark Hughes, two points better off and no more inspired than Norwich in an exceedingly dull contest, talks about a top-half finish. "We're not a million miles away, we're still looking to hopefully get into the top 10," Hughes said. "It's a big ask because there are a lot of teams in and around us but we've got decent games coming up that we think we can get a decent run of points [from]. Targets have to be realistic and obtainable, and the ones we have given the team are realistic and we can get there if we continue in the same vein."
Man of match Ryan Shawcross (Stoke)