Back to the future for City's title bid

Teemu Pukki has enjoyed scoring against Middlesbrough since he arrived at Norwich City

Teemu Pukki has enjoyed scoring against Middlesbrough since he arrived at Norwich City - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Limited

A home win over Middlesbrough was a watershed moment the last time Norwich City stormed to the Championship crown. 

Teemu Pukki announced his arrival as the main man up top with a match-winning display in a side that had Emi Buendia pulling the strings in September 2018. 

Farke is able to reunite the same devastating double act on Saturday, with Pukki the headline return to the squad after a side strain kept him out for the past three weeks.

Adam Idah is also available after knee and foot injuries, and then a positive coronavirus diagnosis plus a period of self-isolation. 

Todd Cantwell is back after missing the FA Cup defeat with what Daniel Farke labelled a hamstring issue related to a back...

Todd Cantwell is back after missing the FA Cup defeat with what Daniel Farke labelled a hamstring issue related to a back problem - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Add Todd Cantwell, Christoph Zimmermann and Xavi Quintilla to the selection mix. Plus new Greek signing Dimitris Giannoulis, following a successful work permit application this week, and Farke sounded on Friday like a head coach who knows the wind is at his back. 

“In the last games we have struggled at times to fill the bench. That won’t be the case this weekend,” he said. “It is good for the mood to have a lot of players back and a full week of training. I expect a tough, tough battle.

"If there is one team in this league who would love to claim a scalp at the leaders it is definitely a Neil Warnock side. They are always unbelievably competitive, they are aggressive and they go for it.  

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“They are in seventh, the want to make the top six and they have shown some ambition in terms of their signings with (Yannick) Bolasie and now (Darnell) Fisher. That says a lot.

"They had some key players injured in the recent games so that doesn’t help and if anything losing twice this week makes them even more motivated, more greedy to perform. I don’t think the last results make our lives easier. It is more complicated.” 

Daniel Farke has plenty of options for Middlesbrough's visit

Daniel Farke has plenty of options for Middlesbrough's visit - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

City still have to contend with their fair share of absentees. Jordan Hugill has been ruled out for a month following his hamstring injury on FA Cup duty, Kenny McLean is self-isolating after contracting coronavirus, and there is no timescale on the possible returns of Marco Stiepermann (Epstein-Barr virus) or Sam Byram (hamstring). 

“We have to be a bit careful before making any predictions,” said Farke. “Marco is doing individual training to build up his body again, to build endurance with his immune system. But it looks much better than two or three weeks ago.

"Sam is still in the rehab process. It was a serious injury. He is running at times and that is the first step but he is not close to first team training. 

“When Jordan was first injured we feared it might be the end of his season. So to be out for three to four weeks is better news. It means he is back for the last months.

"Kenny is symptom free and already able to train and exercise. 

"He feels much better and physically would be ready to go for this game but he has to respect the protocols and will come back to the squad from Sunday. Thankfully all the latest tests we did this week on the group were negative.” 

Norwich City midfielder Lukas Rupp returned from a hamstring injury at Barnsley. With Kenny McLean ruled out he is in line...

Norwich City midfielder Lukas Rupp returned from a hamstring injury at Barnsley. With Kenny McLean ruled out he is in line to retain his place for Middlesbrough's visit - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Limited

Middlesbrough’s Saturday lunchtime visit is the first of eight games inside the next month that will prove a test of endurance as much as the Canaries’ title credentials. 

Farke knows he will have to balance the competing demands of keeping his squad intact and continuing to pile on the league points. 

“We are not able to rotate seven or eight players from game to game. I trust my whole squad. We know the load in the Championship is unbelievable,” he said. “The toughest league in the world but we handled it two years ago and we are handling it now. I know the fixtures can be a bit strange when they are picked for television and, right now, we face three games in six days.

"Two of them are away and with long travel involved. But rather than complain if we get a poor result I would rather say it now before the matches. We accept the challenge. It is tough for the players.

"This is the situation. We want to win all the games and we will try to go for it.” 

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