Pukki (22, 66)
Pukki the star turn as City stay top with victory at Blackburn
Norwich City have maintained their three-point lead at the top of the Championship table after a special brace from Teemu Pukki earned a 2-1 success at Blackburn and a third win on the spin for the Canaries.
City led 1-0 at the break thanks to Teemu Pukki’s eighth goal of the season, to mark his 100th appearance, and he completed a special day with his 50th goal for the club to reclaim the lead in the 65th minute.
There was just one change for both teams, with Alex Tettey coming in for Marco Stiepermann for the Canaries to make his 250th appearance for the club and Mario Vrancic pushing into attacking midfield.
Rovers welcomed skipper Darragh Lenihan back in the centre of defence after a one-game ban, replacing former Norwich centre-back Dani Ayala after a 1-0 defeat at Bristol City on Wednesday which saw Tony Mowbray’s side slip to 10th place.
After the enjoyment of back-to-back Carrow Road wins with 2,000 spectators in attendance, it was back behind closed doors at Ewood Park, in an area which falls into government’s tier three Covid-19 restrictions – with crowd noise being pumped into the stadium.
The hosts started well and Michael McGovern was forced into a good save of a Sam Gallagher header from a Barry Douglas free-kick, with Liverpool loanee Harvey Elliott also curling a low shot just wide.
The Canaries found some rhythm though and both Pukki and Josh Martin had been wasteful of some good sights of goal – that would change from Pukki in the 22nd minute though.
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Good play from the Finland star had earned a corner, delivered by Emi Buendia, from which Martin wasted a chance to shoot but Tettey kept the move alive with tidy feet and blasted the ball into the box from the left, with great control by Pukki to turn sharply and fire into the bottom-left corner from close range.
From there the visitors grew into the game, with Rovers occasionally applying pressure from crosses and set-pieces, with Pukki firing low beyond the far post after a lovely pass from Vrancic in the 34th minute.
It really should have been 2-0 before half-time though, with lovely play from Buendia on the right seeing Pukki denied his 50th goal by the crossbar, keeper Thomas Kaminski getting down well to block a Jacob Sorensen shot with his legs and then the Finn blasting over from close range.
Oliver Skipp also had the ball in the net for City before the break but was clearly offside after Vrancic had prodded the ball through.
Rovers sprang to life after half-time, with Gallagher's shot from the edge of the box crashing against the crossbar and McGovern forced to parry a Lewis Holtby effort away.
The goal they deserved came just before the hour mark when Sorensen was robbed by Ryan Nyambe after McGovern had tried to play out from the back, with Elliott cutting inside Grant Hanley and Max Aarons unable to keep the shot out on the line after McGovern had got a hand to the ball.
However, some sloppy play at the back from the hosts saw City reclaim the lead within six minutes, with Martin teeing up Buendia for a shot and his 25-yard effort being flicked past the goalkeeper on the turn by Pukki - who made clear it wasn't a deflection with the delighted celebrations of his 50th goal for Norwich.
Daniel Farke had been planning a triple substitution but instead Marco Stiepermann took his seat and it was Todd Cantwell and Kenny McLean replacing Vrancic and Martin straight after the goal.
Blackburn boss Tony Mowbray responded in the 72nd minute by replacing all three of his midfielders - and it resulted in the hosts losing their rhythm totally.
McGovern held one low shot from Armstrong during the closing stages and Cantwell was denied by Kaminski at the other end when he probably should have left it for Pukki after good work from Buendia.
But it was mostly smooth sailing for the leaders, as they focused on possession and keeping things simple to protect their lead, surviving one late scare in injury-time as Douglas lashed over after Skipp had nodded down in the box.
Cantwell and Marco Stiepermann really should have added a third but both times were denied by Kaminski - as City saw out the win in Lancashire reasonably comfortable.
Next up is a trip to Reading on Wednesday, who snatched a late winner at QPR to remain in the top-six mix.
BLACKBURN (4-3-3): Kaminski; Nyambe, Lenihan (C), Williams, Douglas; Holtby (Davenport72), Johnson (Buckley 72), Rothwell (Downing 72); Gallagher, Armstrong, Elliott. Unused subs: Pears (GK), Ayala, Chapman, Bell, Carter, Dolan
Goals: Elliott (59)
NORWICH (4-2-3-1): McGovern; Aarons, Zimmermann, Hanley (C), Sorensen; Skipp, Tettey; Buendia (Stiepermann 90+3), Vrancic (McLean 66), Martin (Cantwell 66); Pukki (Hugill 89). Unused subs: Barden (GK), Omobamidele, Dowell, Omotoye
Goals: Pukki (22, 65)
REFEREE: Dean Whitestone (Northamptonshire)