Norwich City 1 Stoke City 1: Kenwyne Jones' header deep in added time rescued a point for Stoke City after Norwich appeared to have done enough to mark the return of Premier League football to Carrow Road with a victory.
To make matters worse for Norwich, they had been harshly reduced to 10 men with 25 minutes remaining after Leon Barnett was sent off by referee Neil Swarbrick for fouling Jon Walters. Although Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy saved the penalty, diving to his left to keep out Walters' side-footed effort, Canaries' manager Paul Lambert maintained the initial contact between the two players – which in itself was slight enough – had been well outside the penalty area.
"It might have been a free-kick, but it was three yards outside the box, so it was a double hit for us," said Lambert. "I thought we were brilliant, but going down to 10 men at this level makes it very tough. With 11 on the pitch, I think we'd have seen it through."
Stoke manager Tony Pulis acknowledged the Potters had not been at their best, particularly during the first half, eight minutes from the end of which Ritchie De Laet lost his marker Walters to glance Bradley Johnson's free-kick beyond the Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.
"As a club, we're on a new journey now, with European football and travelling away and having to deal with that and then coming back and playing on Sundays," Pulis said. "It's a completely different way of running a football team, in respect of preparing for games, and something we have to learn as we go along."
He confirmed that he is hoping to bring "three or four" new faces into the club this week: "We need to improve. We've done remarkably well over the past four years, and we just need to get a little bit more quality into the team to help us."
Lambert himself had sprung something of a surprise in making six changes to the team which gained a creditable point at Wigan in their first game, dropping the creative but relatively lightweight Wes Hoolahan, and switching to a flat midfield four to give Stoke wingers Jermaine Pennant and Matthew Etherington less space.
As it turned out Pennant, who went off with a sore calf after 30 minutes, was rarely an influence as Norwich took the game to their opponents, with their own wingers Elliott Bennett and Anthony Pilkington seeing plenty of the ball on the flanks.
Chances were at something of a premium, however, so the manner in which Stoke went behind eight minutes before half-time must have infuriated Pulis. If any team knows about the dangers of attacking headers from a free-kick into the box it is surely Stoke.
The second half saw the visitors making more effort to take the initiative, but even after Norwich lost Barnett, their attacks were less than sophisticated. Jones turned one close-range shot over the bar, Danny Pugh, an ineffectual replacement for Pennant, sliced an effort wide, and, in the absence of Rory Delap, Pulis even brought on Ryan Shotton to hurl a long throw or two into the box. Nothing worked, but as Pulis pointed out, they kept banging on the door, and it opened just in time.
"They kept getting in the crosses and in those circumstances it only took a split second's loss of concentration and the ball was in the back of the net," said De Laet, after Jones had headed Glenn Whelan's free-kick past Ruddy. "It's frustrating because we've deserved more from both our first games, but I think we're showing we can compete at this level."
Substitutes: Norwich Ayala 5 (Pilkington, 66), Surman 5 (Bennett, 74), Jackson (C Martin, 84). Stoke Pugh 5 (Pennant, 31), Shotton (Woodgate, 77). Booked: Norwich None.
Stoke Shawcross, Woodgate.