Freezer’s Five: Key observations following a fine 3-1 win in Bristol for Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Our chief Norwich City reporter David Freezer has delivered his verdict from Ashton Gate, following Norwich City’s very encouraging 3-1 win at Bristol City.
Return of the attack?
It was the first time the Canaries had scored three goals in a league game since the famous 3-2 win over Manchester City in September last year - and all before half-time!
That’s 41 league matches without managing more than two - quite the contrast from the title-winning season of 2018-19, when Daniel Farke’s team managed to score three or more in 17 of their 46 Championship matches.
Bristol made the mistake of inviting the Canaries on to them, allowing them to control possession and backing their 3-5-2 formation to be able to soak up the pressure.
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Perhaps the 24 hours fewer in which to recover than Norwich, having lost 1-0 to Bournemouth on Wednesday night, contributed to their lethargic first half but they also came up against a Norwich team recovering their confidence.
By the time Emi Buendia continued his rejuvenation with brilliant skill and a fine finish just before half-time, it was clear which team was heading for the points - unless they shot themselves in the foot.
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Super Tim Krul, yet again
However, City’s number one was absolutely crucial to having and holding on to a 3-1 lead, brilliantly denying Chris Martin in the 36th minute.
The Holland international had twice made hugely important saves during the 1-1 draw at Brentford on Tuesday, when the Canaries were still trailing 1-0.
This time it was a 2-1 lead that he was protecting, as Jamie Paterson delivered a corner from the right and former Norwich striker Martin nodded towards the bottom-right corner.
It was almost like a moment from The Matrix, as Krul appeared suspended in mid-air as he managed to scoop the ball away from his line spectacularly.
The Dutchman roared in celebration as his defenders rush to congratulate him like it had been a penalty save - knowing just how important that could be.
Then he repeated the trick just before the hour mark, just getting fingertips on a great long-range effort from Martin to flick the ball on to his far post when he had looked beaten.
City were also hugely relieved to see Nahki Wells completely fluff a penalty in the 75th minute, with a poor chip over the bar, after he had teased Krul into diving with a stuttering run-up.
Pukki finds some power
City had that early lead thanks to some trademark clinical finishing from the Championship Player of the Season of 2019 though, notching his fourth of the campaign and third in two matches.
The first was from the welcome and familiar sight of Marco Stiepermann threading the Finn into the left side of the penalty area, before an immaculate touch kept the ball away from defender Zak Vyner, to slot low under Dan Bentley.
Within eight minutes he made it 2-0, with Jacob Sorensen with the vision for the pass from the left, again with his touch teeing up the shooting opportunity but with help from a deflection off the despairing dive of Taylor Moore as he found the bottom-right corner.
The 30-year-old took his total tally for the club to 45 goals, as he closes on the all-time top 20, currently occupied by Wes Hoolahan on 54.
He’s now not far behind legends such as Darren Huckerby (48) in 26th place and Martin Peters (50) in 23rd - and he’s not quite clocked up 100 matches yet.
Midfield mix evolves
Daniel Farke decided to stick with Sorensen at left-back ahead of Bali Mumba, in the absence of Xavi Quintilla, and the Dane again managed to cover fairly smoothly - with a lovely assist as well.
The changes Farke went with though were to drop Todd Cantwell and Mario Vrancic to the bench, after ineffective displays at Brentford in midweek, particularly for an off-colour Cantwell.
He opted to bring in Stiepermann and one of the heroes of 2018-19 started to recover his poise, having missed two games through illness and not been brought on at Brentford.
Some of the skill and link play with Pukki was hugely encouraging, before he tired, but it was a step in the right direction for the German.
Placheta wasn’t able to shine to the same extent on the left, with some particularly wasteful finishing in the second half, but it was a valuable 90 minutes to help him get up to speed.
Victory moved the Canaries up to second place ahead of the rest of Saturday’s games, ensuring they would be at least in the top six at the start of next week.
Five unbeaten has really taken some weight off the shoulders of Farke and his players as they overcome a particularly vicious Premier League relegation hangover - although they’ve got a long way to go to match the 14-game unbeaten run which sealed the title in 2019.
In comparison, 17 points from nine games keeps them three points ahead of where that title-winning squad were at this stage, level with the title winners of 2003-04 and one ahead of Paul Lambert’s promotion winners of 2010-11.
A word of caution however, they are three points adrift of where City were under Neil Adams in 2014 and Alex Neil in 2016, so this is just the start - a foundation to build upon.