Teemu Pukki fired Norwich City to the top in the championship trip to Birmingham City
– Photo credit: Paul Chesterton / Focus Images Ltd.
Norwich’s championship rivals must have hoped Daniel Farke’s squad had slipped out of the smooth groove they’d found since beating Stoke. Bad news. They made it at St. Andrews and it was three points closer to the finish line. Plus a 10-point gap above any major rivals trying to react on Wednesday.
Perhaps Birmingham deserves more credit. The Blues were excellent in their tactical approach, in the energy of their press and in the discomfort that Norwich and Farke caused on the matter.
It has been a long time since the Canaries looked as out of place as the equalizer in the Birmingham’s first half shows.
The hallmark of that title push seems to be Norwich’s ability to find a way.
Birmingham may feel a burning sense of injustice when Emi Buendia’s deflected shot for Teemu Pukki fell to to double his personal record – after saving a penalty for the first half – but how often does the Finn’s gambling pay off?
Farke only wants to talk about points at this stage, not about placements in the league. However, if Norwich can keep winning if they fall below their own high standards, that ray of light will narrow for the rest of the week.
Farke sparked a big debate with his post-game comments about Pukki’s return to the goal path after his Rotherham Match Winner.
Few doubted his words with a majestic opening goal at St. Andrews for the second time in a week.
Kenny McLean’s pass left him with a lot on the left edge of the Birmingham box do, but the power and timing of his target swung over a stunned Neil Etheridge into the far corner was majestic.
Unfortunately, Etheridge demanded a degree of revenge when they dueled again from the penalty spot later in the first half / p> The keeper of the blues asserted himself and ended up having a regular stop with his legs after Pukki decided to place instead of closing the middle.
But like Farke even after the match winner from Pukki’s Millers rightly emphasized, this is the life of a striker. His gamble in the second half paid off to follow Buendia’s deflected shot at Etheridge.
Comparisons to two seasons ago are unfair. This is a more pragmatic Norwich with the burden of expectation. Pukki is also no longer an unknown product. Park this debate and just trust the Finn to deliver when it counts.
Beyond the headlines from Pukki, Onel Hernandez’s introduction to Mario Vrancic provided much-needed momentum and threat of attack.
The Cubans stormed into the Birmingham box and then a composed setback for Buendia led to Pukki and Norwich’s second goal.
His ability to stretch the game and run down the clock was also invaluable in the final stages the blues were tired.
His goals and assists in the championship title campaign two seasons ago have made him a serious operator at this level. He may have had to be content with a rather small role so far. But since his head coach needed game changers, Hernandez delivered the blues with his boost.
On the track you can see that the popular player is becoming an increasingly important figure. In close matches he can provide something of an X-Factor.
In an empty stadium, the frustrated voice of Norwich’s head coach pierced the cold air in this part of Birmingham for most of that opening period.
Farke was anything but impressed by the offer on his side. His late return to the dig site after halftime, combined with his tone of voice and body language, suggested that he might have conveyed his point by force.
Norwich certainly looked a lot more aggressive and more willing to get involved with Birmingham as a passive opening phase.
Farke recently spoke after that mini-blip about how he’ll happily pick up the baton in certain games when he feels like he needs to be louder from the sideline. This was such a night.
But it had the desired effect. His decision to introduce Hernandez also paid off. Jordan Hugill’s header put substitute Lukas Rupp out of action to secure this hard-fought victory. Farke’s role is about looking for small profits. Whether that’s his tactical improvements or just his man management. The Norwich head coach delivered.
Christoph Zimmermann was rightly commended for responding to a defensive SOS when Ben Gibson woke up on Saturday with an earlier issue. Zimmermann was steadfast and composed along with Grant Hanley on that goal from Rotherham.
However, this was a far more uncomfortable postponement before the break. Birmingham cleverly squeezed through the middle and launched numerous raids from wide areas. Cheap early booking for a raised foot on Jeremie Bela put undue pressure on him.
Then his failure to control Tim Krul’s hot pass resulted in a turnover that equalized in the first half at Birmingham. He also allowed Scott Hogan to escape before the break, but the front man of the Blues drove past.
Thanks to him, the performance in the second half of the year was safer and far less complicated. Zimmermann kicked and walked, letting those up in the park ahead of him deal with the other side of the equation.
Zimmermann knows he must take advantage of every opportunity, considering how good Gibson and Hanley are have cut off up to that point of the promotion. But when the Burnley borrower declares himself available for the weekend trip to Wycombe, it is suspected that Zimmermann may have to meet his time again.
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