Paddy’s Pointers: Five observations from Norwich City’s stout 1-0 Championship win against Middlesbrough

Teemu Pukki of Norwich celebrates scoring his sides 1st goal from the penalty spot during the Sky Be

Teemu Pukki of Norwich celebrates scoring his sides 1st goal from the penalty spot during the Sky Bet Championship match at the Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267 21/11/2020 - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Group Football Editor Paddy Davitt delivers his Middlesbrough verdict after the Canaries’ hard-fought Championship victory.

1. Bookmark this win

If City do buck the trend that says relegated Premier League clubs really should not even bother trying to bounce back at the first time of asking, this is the type of win they will offer for the prosecution.

Daniel Farke may have been getting his blows in early when he highlighted the ravaging impact of losing so many players to international duty.

Add in a fresh round of injuries, and an opponent lying in wait sensing blood, and there may have been genuine concerns the unbeaten run stopped on Teesside.

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Certainly Middlesbrough set about probing for vulnerability in a high intensity first half, albeit they largely failed to trouble the City number one.

The visitors can count themselves fortunate Marcus Tavernier’s penalty slip offered a reprieve to Ben Gibson back on old turf.

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However there was nothing fortunate about the defensive resolution thereafter, or the adventure of Max Aarons to earn the penalty coolly slotted by Teemu Pukki. This was not Norwich in vintage mode. This was obdurate, stubborn Norwich.

And in the context of stitching together a Championship promotion push it was delightful to savour.

2. Skipping to a new tune

There is no doubt Olly Skipp now looks attuned to the rhythm of the Championship.

Those first few faltering tussles, particularly an uncomfortable shift at home to Preston, were a voyage of discovery for a young man who has known nothing but Tottenham and the top flight in his brief first team exposure.

But in City’s most recent outings he has taken a major step forward; there is a confidence and belief and a maturity stamped through his displays.

The ball moves quicker, the defensive interventions are combative and decisive.

There was one passage of play here in the second half when the game was ridiculously stretched he tracked back to execute a perfectly-timed turnover tackle that draw loud applause from the away technical area.

It was a simple act that spoke volumes. Skipp is now playing like he believes he is a key part of a team going in the right direction.

Given Patrick Roberts made a late, forgettable cameo from the Boro bench it was another reminder not every Premier League loan need be a gamble.

3. Half measures for Hugill

The Teesside boy had a golden chance to really enjoy his latest homecoming with a rare start in place of Pukki. Alas, a blow to his right shoulder midway through that opening period, allied to Boro’s intense pressing, left him a frustrated bystander.

He was withdrawn for the match-winner at the interval, with Farke suggesting after the game there may be ligament damage to his shoulder that will be assessed over the coming hours.

But with the City chief opting to allow Pukki a breather after his hectic international spell this felt like a big audition. It turned into another case of what might have been.

Hugill’s early pronouncements after his move from West Ham certainly endeared him to his new audience. There is a talismanic quality to how he carries himself, and one can be sure he is a popular figure already in the Canaries’ dressing room. But he was recruited to ease some of the attacking responsibility on Pukki. We still await lift off in that regard.

One hopes the latest fitness bulletin is positive with Adam Idah already on the sidelines.

4. The feeling is mutual

Tim Krul returned to Norwich with his international ambitions advanced after starting both Nations League wins for Holland. He might have owed his shot to Jasper Cillessen’s injury absence, but there is no question the Norwich City number one has re-established himself in the orange shirt.

Krul spoke movingly about his long road back again during the past fortnight.

But the debt he feels to Norwich for rescuing his career after a bleak, prolonged, injury hell still burns strong. Strong enough not to contemplate a move after relegation to rubber-stamp his spot in the national set up.

There would have been no shortage of takers, after his personal stock rose last season despite featuring in a struggling side.

It is not just the saves, or even the distribution.

But in a soulless, empty bowl of a stadium in the north-east it is the vocal presence. Constantly urging his players on, veering dangerously to coaching rookie left back Jacob Sorensen, and more than willing to berate the officials for what he perceived was early time wasting tactics or incorrect calls from the near side assistant.

Krul was lucky to find Norwich at a vulnerable time. But my word Norwich are lucky to have him now.

5. Back to the well

Boro marked the first of a congested 11 game spell in the next 39 days. Stoke awaits in a matter of days. Another Championship promotion hopeful striving to catch another wave to land back in a Premier League they inhabited for such a long spell, predominantly under Tony Pulis.

Farke’s room for manoeuvre, even with a 20-man matchday squad, is narrowing with each fresh injury setback.

To be without Idah and Bali Mumba for the next 10 weeks is a major blow.

They bring energy, freshness and a naivety of youth that could have been invaluable commodities during what might feel increasingly like a Championship grind between now and the new year.

Farke is currently managing an uncomfortable situation at left back with Xavi Quintilla still unfit for duty. While Todd Cantwell was another notable absentee in the north-east.

City at least have no more international demands on their key personnel to worry about. Most notably with their attacking spearhead.

It it not just Pukki’s goals but his presence on the pitch. He offers a focal point for the likes of Marco Stiepermann and Emi Buendia. City’s continued upward mobility is entwinned with keeping him fit.

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