Irresistible Canaries reclaim top spot with stylish thrashing of lowly Bolton
"We are top of the league" sang the gleeful Norwich City fans after seeing their team batter struggling Bolton Wanderers 4-0 - despite missing yet another penalty, the only low note of a superb away triumph.
The Canaries cut through the hosts like a hot knife through butter in the first half and were three goals to the good at the break thanks to goals from Teemu Pukki, Marco Stiepermann and Emi Buendia.
With Leeds not playing City already knew it was enough to send them back to the top of the table and Pukki made sure of the points 10 minutes into the second half, scoring his 23rd goal in 30 league games.
The visitors were even able to miss a penalty without it causing too much concern, Kenny McLean bizarrely being handed the ball with Pukki on a hat-trick and seeing his low effort saved, a sixth penalty miss of seven awarded to the Canaries this season.
City boss Daniel Farke made just one change to his starting line-up, with Alex Tettey ruled out with an ankle injury after the midweek 3-1 loss at Preston, bringing in Kenny McLean for his first league start since August.
The change contributed to a scintillating display which left the home side wondering what had hit them when they were 3-0 down.
Buendia had already curled a shot over after fine play from Hernandez in the fourth minute, before Pukki claimed the lead in the eighth minute with his 22nd league goal of the season.
The move began with Ben Godfrey making a timely block in his own box, allowing Hernadnez and Jamal Lewis to combine nicely on the left to find Stiepermann, who unleashed a perfect ball to Pukki in the left channel, with the Finn turning inside his marker and curling a shot inside the near post.
Buendia curled another shot over minutes later after a buccaneering run forward from Godfrey had allowed Pukki to cross form the right and the Canaries continued to dominate until Stiepermann doubled the lead in the 25th minute.
McLean and Tom Trybull combined before Buendia set Aarons away on the right, the 19-year-old calmly played Pukki into the right side of the box, who cut back a low cross, where Stiepermann was waiting to drill a low shot into the bottom-right corner past exposed Canaries academy product Remi Matthews in the Bolton goal.
A beautiful pass from deep from Stiepermann had Hernandez in on goal a few minutes later and although Matthews initially smothered the chances, Buendia played Hernandez in again and the Cuban’s cross was agonisingly behind Pukki with the goal gaping.
Pawel Olkowski kept Tim Krul awake in the 34th minute with a low shot that was easy for the Dutchman to hold in the City goal and the third goal followed within 30 seconds.
Aarons drove into space on the right and handed over to McLean, who drilled a brilliant cross in with his trusty left foot, finding Buendia with just Matthews to beat, with the Argentine flicking past the keeper for 3-0.
The Bolton stopper denied a Stiepermann effort before the break but the hosts were booed off the pitch as their relegation worries increased, with a woeful Clayton Donaldson volley going out for a throw and drawing howls of laughter from home and away supporters as the mismatch drew to a pause for half-time.
Home boss Phil Parkinson made a double substitution, taking off Josh Vela and Donaldson, replacing them with Sammy Ameobi and Joe Williams.
The hosts came out with fire in their bellies and Craig Noone sent over a cross from the left which Josh Magennis headed back into the danger zone and Callum Connolly headed straight at Krul, all stemming from a poorly timed Trybull challenge.
The midfielder made up for it with a fine interception in the 52nd minute, setting Hernandez away, only to be denied by Matthews’ feet, with the keeper making a similarly important save from Pukki soon after.
The Finland international had his second in the 56th minute after a fabulous pass from deep from centre-back Christoph Zimmermann, taking a touch and then chipping the on-rushing Matthews in front of the 1,400 away fans, to spark wild celebrations – scoring his 10th goal in nine league games.
It should have been five in the 63rd minute but the penalty woes continued for Norwich, with Pukki brought down by Mark Beevers clumsily after good play from Hernandez on the left.
McLean became the sixth player to miss a spot-kick this season, blasting low but seeing Matthews save with his feet, a sixth missed penalty in seven for Farke’s team.
Zimmermann needed to make an excellent block of a Jason Lowe shot in the 71st minute, as the Canaries lost their concentration and became ragged in defence, leaving their head coach hopping mad on the touchline.
Moritz Leitner made his return from almost two months out injured in the 78th minute, replacing Stiepermann, with Dennis Srbeny and Grant Hanley also getting late run-outs as City ran down the clock comfortably, with Pukki testing Matthews one last time before he was replaced.
The Canaries return to action next Saturday when they host in-form play-off hopefuls Bristol City at Carrow Road.
Norwich: Krul; Aarons, Zimmermann (C), Godfrey, Lewis (Hanley 89); McLean, Trybull; Buendia, Stiepermann (Leitner 78), Hernandez; Pukki (Srbeny 87). Unused subs: McGovern (GK), Klose, Cantwell, Rhodes
Goals: Pukki (8, 56), Stiepermann (25), Buendia (34)
Bolton: Matthews; Olkowski, Vela (Joe Williams 46), Wheater (C), Beevers, Noone (Buckley 87); Murphy, Lowe, Connolly; Magennis, Donaldson (Ameobi 46). Unused subs: Ben Williams (GK), Little, Pritchard, Hall
Booked: Noone (foul on Stiepermann, 29)
Referee: Andy Woolmer (Northants)
Attendance: 14,006 (1,561 away)
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