The verdict: Pukki the Canaries hero again before Leeds provide fresh plot twist to a Christmas classic
PUBLISHED: 15:58 23 December 2018 | UPDATED: 16:11 23 December 2018
The Championship script writers may have snatched top spot at Christmas away from Norwich City but a late Leeds winner will not wipe the smiles from Canaries faces.
A couple of weeks ago Daniel Farke was battling against Pirates of the Caribbean style curses in his efforts to keep an unexpected and thrilling promotion chase alive. The latest scene in the German’s 2018-19 movie was more like Home Alone or even Die Hard, for those of you who appreciate a true Christmas classic.
An unusual situation, battling against adversity, making a long journey, tenacious villains, all leading to a fairytale finish as the family are reunited in the end.
The story of the weekend had all the Hollywood hallmarks of an epic adventure – and has even left scope for a sequel or two.
It looked like a place on top of the table at Christmas was going to be City’s for the first time since 2003 as Leeds fell 2-0 behind at Aston Villa on Sunday afternoon, only for Marcelo Bielsa’s team to put together an incredible climax themselves, to win 3-2 in the fifth minute of injury-time and reclaim top spot.
However, the important issue of the weekend was already settled for a Canaries team who have their very own Bruce Willis to save the day, an all-action hero who never knows when he’s beaten and somehow finds a way to get the job done: Teemu Pukki.
There he was lurking in the six-yard box, hiding in plain sight, ensuring he had the time and space required to fire into the net from close range and grab a crucial 86th-minute winner at Blackburn.
The Finland international’s 30th goal for club and country in 2018 was the early present the 1,300 travelling fans had been hoping for at Ewood Park, a stadium which could fairly be described as a fortress for the hosts.
Only Sheffield United had emerged victorious in the last 31 league games played there, a fantastic record stretching deep into last season’s League One promotion campaign.
Yet they were facing a Norwich team already unbeaten in nine away games and a spirited squad realising they have nothing to fear in this division. There are all sorts of impressive facts and figures you can pin on a first half of the campaign which is making Premier League potential more and more difficult to ignore.
City fans need little reminding of the last time their team were top of the table at Christmas, when a famous Leon McKenzie debut double fired Nigel Worthington’s team top of the league at Portman Road.
That 2003-04 team went on to lift the second tier trophy on the balcony of Norwich City Hall. While the current crop have been denied those festive bragging rights in dramatic fashion, the likes of Mackay, Huckerby and Roberts had 43 points after 23 games. This team has a superb 47.
It’s such an encouraging comparison that it’s almost unnerving. How can a club go from finishing 14th last season, to five points clear of third and 12 clear of seventh at Christmas?
They’ve lost just one of the last 18 matches, 13 of which have been wins and with the only defeat being to Stoke because of an unfortunate Timm Klose own goal. The time may finally have arrived to accept that Farke’s team could do this, promotion could be possible, and central to that is the character which continues to defy the odds.
On this occasion that was despite Emi Buendia being hurt by a late Richie Smallwood tackle in the opening 20 minutes and the returning Moritz Leitner being forced off at the break after being caught by Corry Evans.
Both Rovers players were booked but City were robbed of a key duo, leaving Farke to compare Rovers’ approach to disrupting his team to how he might approach an attempt to contain a Premier League team in the FA Cup.
It was a cutting remark which said so much about the satisfaction of the result.
Ben Godfrey saw two goals chalked off, Marco Stiepermann and Godfrey were both denied by fine David Raya saves and Blackburn had one shot on target.
There was only one team on the pitch deserving of the win.
It was Mario Vrancic who proved decisive though, keeping his head when all about him were losing theirs, with a touch of class and precise pass which allowed Onel Hernandez to find Pukki perfectly placed and waiting for his moment.
It may not have been quite as dramatic as those chaotic home winners against Millwall and Bolton – but the striker’s 14th goal of the season was his most important yet.