Solid return to action for Rupp at Boro but hamstring worry returns
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It was straight back into the starting line-up for Lukas Rupp as Norwich City went to Middlesbrough - but his hamstring issue may have reemerged after helping the Canaries move to the top of the Championship table.
The German had convinced City fans of his worth prior to missing the 1-0 home win over Swansea ahead of the international break, so reclaimed the central midfield slot alongside Oliver Skipp from Kenny McLean in spite of that win.
There was a nervy moment for the 29-year-old after 10 minutes, as he reacted to the presence of Djed Spence too slowly and conceded a free-kick to the left of City’s box, taking the ball but also the man. Thankfully however Emi Buendia blocked the Marcus Tavernier free-kick and Tim Krul was eventually able to claim the ball.
He started to find some forward momentum four minutes later when finding Marco Stiepermann in the opposition half, only for his team-mate to waste a good position, but soon after was combining with Skipp to cover for Jacob Sorensen at left-back, who had felt he was fouled by Jonny Howson.
The former Hoffenheim midfielder’s touch let him down in the 17th minute and he clipped Tavernier to concede a free-kick and end an attack, as a frustrating start continued.
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Rupp and Skipp started to see more of the ball after 20 minutes - although he got away with a risky pass to Ben Gibson inside his own penalty area, who calmly found Skipp in space.
He was clattered in his own half by Marvin Johnson to win a free-kick and soon after was in the right place to ensure George Saville couldn’t get his head on a deep corner from the right from Paddy McNair.
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His search for a first City goal - now stretching to 26 matches - continued as Sorensen turned the ball to Stiepermann in the 31st minute, who allowed Rupp to stride into space, but a 25-yard shot drifted wide as the chance opened up.
There was some good defensive covering for the remainder of the half as Boro enjoyed a good spell but a nervy moment just before the break, as he prevented Chuba Akpom from breaking but conceded a free-kick, which City dealt with to keep the score at 0-0 at half-time.
The action kicked off five minutes into the second half as Rupp made a brilliant block to deny a Spence shot, only for Przemek Placheta to lose possession and Ben Gibson to catch Tavernier and concede a penalty.
After a huge let off, with Tavernier slipping and adjudged to have touched the ball twice as his penalty was disallowed, City took control.
He was initially bailed out by Skipp after being robbed by Anfernee Dijksteel in the Boro half in the 56th minute but was then able to send Buendia forward, who played Teemu Pukki into the box, where the impressive Fry was again able to block.
Three minutes later and it was Gibson striding forward and Rupp couldn’t quite find Buendia but a kind deflection allowed him to shoot from just inside the box, only for Fry to again block and then Pukki to find the side-netting.
Rupp was finding his rhythm though and sent Placheta clear down the left soon after, whose low cross was so nearly turned in at the near post by Buendia, only for Rupp to then foul Fry as he tried to keep the attack alive.
The goal City needed to go top of the table finally came in the 72nd minute and Rupp collected the ball from Sorensen to start the move which would won the crucial penalty, striding forward and finding Pukki on the left. Placheta then switched to Max Aarons on the right and was fouled in the box as he completed a one-two with Buendia - with Pukki calmly converting the winner.
For Rupp however it was a quiet conclusion, switching to the right wing as Kenny McLean replaced the hobbling Buendia in the 79th minute, being caught offside in injury-time as Aarons had nodded on a pass.
Daniel Farke would then reveal that Rupp’s hamstring strain had flared up again, which will need assessment ahead of Tuesday’s game at Stoke.
VERDICT: Not as effective as he had been prior to his injury issue but certainly played his part in an improved second half display, with good energy and defensive discipline. Didn’t enjoy as much of the ball in the opposition half as he would have liked but a solid shift during a hard fought 1-0 away win.
RATING: 7 out of 10