Stoke boss Tony Pulis has praised his players for their continued hard graft during a “draining” campaign.
The Potters’ 1-0 Barclays Premier League victory over Norwich on Saturday at the Britannia Stadium was their 44th game this term.
A gruelling season has threatened to unravel recently, with the Staffordshire outfit losing four top-flight fixtures in a row and being eliminated from the Europa League at the first knock-out stage by Valencia.
Stoke have dug in though, and ground results out again, winning three of their last four matches in all competitions.
The Potters are now back in the top half of the table and Pulis said: “I think what people don’t appreciate is that that is 44 games we have played now.
“We got to the last 32 in Europe, we are in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup — we have had a really, really busy season in lots of respects.
“In the FA Cup, we will go to Liverpool and that is our fourth away game in that competition. It takes its toll and it is difficult.
“It is the first time this football club has been engaged in such a sequence of games, and we are talking about a top level against top sides, in Europe as well.
“It is draining, but what the players have done is get their heads down.”
Pulis was particularly pleased with yesterday’s match-winner Matthew Etherington, who he feels is approaching his best form again.
“For Matty to score is good because it gives him that little bit of confidence,” Pulis said.
“I think he goes a little bit up and down at times and mostly it is due to his confidence. So scoring will do him the world of good.”
After Stoke had been frustrated in their efforts to break down some stubborn Norwich resistance, their 72nd-minute goal came in controversial circumstances.
Potters substitute Cameron Jerome headed Marc Wilson’s throw-in — which replays suggested should have been awarded to the visitors instead — on to Etherington, who touched the ball past Elliott Ward before beating John Ruddy at the near post.
It was an incident that left Canaries manager Paul Lambert fuming.
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