Paddy Davitt: Who can step up to take Teemu’s crown?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
In all probability it has now got lost in the mists of time but the Teemu Pukki who spearheaded Norwich City’s title win at this level was not the Teemu Pukki who started that decorated Championship campaign.
Jordan Rhodes was the main man. Recruited from Sheffield Wednesday on a season long loan with a fearsome reputation for scoring goals in the Football League.
For the first six league and cup games of 2018/19, Pukki had a walk on part as Rhodes led the line.
There were appearances off the bench, there was deployment in a wider right role, and even behind City’s main man.
That all changed in the game immediately following the first international break. Pukki started up top against Middlesbrough, notched the only goal and then made way late on for second half substitute Rhodes.
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The die was cast. The role reversal complete.
Pukki went on to plunder 29 goals in all competitions, and hoover up individual accolades at every turn. Rhodes went back to the shadows at Hillsborough after his role as chief cheerleader.
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What all that suggests is not only is it wide of the mark to label Daniel Farke an inflexible, rigid operator who will continue to place blind trust in his perceived favourites.
But also that different sub plots and other actors can emerge to take control of the script and wrestle the spotlight from the ‘A’ listers.
The failure to notch in either of the two Championship affairs prior to this latest international break merely increases the focus at the sharp end of the pitch. It also does nothing to lessen the scrutiny on why Jordan Hugill was enticed from the Premier League yet has so far had to make do with limited cameos. Not only that but after, in most cases, Adam Idah has already been introduced.
All three were on the pitch by the end of both losses to Bournemouth and Derby and City’s play in the final third was still circumspect.
David Marshall denied Hugill with a superb one-handed parry but that is a very slim sample given the weight of possession and territorial control.
Those reports from Pukki’s international boss in recent days that he needed an injection to play against the Rams to deal with a toe infection did Farke no favours, when he has two serious rivals in the wings.
But that seems harsh with the benefit of hindsight and a bizarre penalty blooper.
Pukki had shown glimpses against Huddersfield and Preston some of that zest and effervescence had returned to his game after a sad, slow retreat from the Premier League.
Plus any serious dissection of the Canaries’ fitful productivity must include the search for a balance in midfield and the quality of the supply lines to the front. Perhaps only in the Preston home game has Pukki enjoyed the type of service he was routinely served up two seasons ago.
That underlines the shift in mentality from opponents who view frustrating Farke’s side as something of a badge of honour.
The City chief not only needs to come up with a residually effective antidote but settle on a spearhead that can deliver it.
Farke demonstrated last season Pukki is not untouchable when he dropped the Finn for the first time in his Norwich career. Josip Drmic failed to pass his audition but should struggles continue on the other side of this international break expect Hugill and Idah to get their chance. It is not simply a case of personnel, the patterns of play will need to be refined.
Replace Pukki with Hugill at Rotherham on the resumption and if you expect the same energetic running of the channels, or smooth link up play, or the intelligent movement to lose centre backs and you are in for disappointment. That is not Hugill’s game. He needs service to showcase his aerial threat and his penalty box prowess.
Idah is nearer to Pukki’s all round offerings, and that perhaps explains why Farke has opted to turn to the Republic of Ireland international first. But the teenager is still finding his feet in the professional ranks. To burden him with the responsibility to lead the Norwich line at this stage of the campaign feels a touch premature.
Farke clearly had to mull over similar conundrums at this stage two years ago.
To omit Rhodes and trust Pukki for that watershed win against Middlesbrough was a huge call that paid dividends.
It may take something similar as part of an acceptance the tried and trusted, in terms of both personnel and approach, is not going to work quite as well this time around.