Coventry City F.C
Pukki (28), Buendia (45+1)
Buendia and Pukki too good for Coventry as City reclaim control
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The first of four potential banana skins was side-stepped expertly by Championship leaders Norwich City against lowly Coventry.
Goals from top scorer Teemu Pukki and creative star Emi Buendia grasped control before the break at St Andrew’s, as the visitors’ quality proved too much for the Sky Blues.
With nearest rivals Brentford throwing away a lead to lose 2-1 at QPR and lose back-to-back games, the Canaries sit four points clear at the summit and five clear of third place with 16 games remaining.
Daniel Farke stuck with the same starting XI and squad from the 4-1 home win over Stoke which had comprehensively finished a four-game goal drought and reclaimed top spot in the Championship table.
The hosts had only won one of their last six to leave them just above the relegation zone though so former Norwich striker Mark Robins made four changes to his team, including changing his goalkeeper and lone striker.
Wearing their black and pink third kit, City had seen Pukki waste a Mario Vrancic through-ball during the scrappy opening 20 minutes, trying to tee up an unmarked Todd Cantwell but passing the ball behind his team-mate.
Grant Hanley had been harshly booked after Coventry striker Tyler Walker had appeared to make a mess of a chance to charge clean through and the hosts also saw Callum O’Hare power a close-range header over the bar under press from Max Aarons in the 24th minute, after a fine cross from right wing-back Julien Dacosta.
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The leaders gradually took control though and claimed the lead in the 28th minute in familiar fashion, with Buendia cutely threading Pukki clean through and the Finn firing low across keeper Ben Wilson into the bottom-left corner.
It was an eighth assist of the campaign for Buendia and a 14th goal for Pukki, taking him into level 20th place in the Canaries’ all-time top scorers’ list, level with Tommy Bryceland on 55 for the club.
The goal knocked the stuffing out of the struggling hosts and all of a sudden confidence flowed for Norwich, with Dimitris Giannoulis and Vrancic firing shots just over before Wilson saved with his legs on his line as Hanley powered a header goalwards from a Buendia corner in the 39th minute.
Ben Gibson had also bundled into the side-netting from a clever, low Buendia free-kick and City doubled their lead before the break, with Pukki returning the favour in the first minute of added time.
The Finland star’s pace was misjudged by dawdling centre-back Kyle McFadzean and he stole the ball to charge through on goal, then unselfishly tee up the unmarked Buendia for an easy finish just as it appeared he was about to pull the trigger.
On the back of Saturday’s 4-1 victory over Stoke, all of a sudden the four-game goal drought of recent times was seeming like a distant memory, as the Premier League flame at the end of the tunnel just started to burn that little brighter.
Robins responded with a double change at half-time, with Brighton loanee Leo Ostigard replacing Michael Rose in defence and Max Biamou replacing Jamie Allen in attacking midfield, with Biamou the man who had scored the late equaliser at Carrow Road in November.
Dacosta was hauled off in the 57th minute, after being lucky to avoid a second yellow card for a trip on Giannoulis, who he had clattered in just the fourth minute to earn a booking.
The changes appeared to be working as well, with slack defending from Giannoulis earning him a furious telling off from Tim Krul after the keeper had sprawled himself in front of O’Hare to forced the midfielder to fire just wide.
Gustavo Hamer smashed a low shot just wide in the 59th minute as well, with the Sky Blues getting the ball forward quicker as they desperately chased a goal, with substitute Josh Pask heading straight at Krul from a deep Jordan Shipley cross in the 65th minute.
Aarons saw a shot smothered by Wilson after a wonderful long pass from Cantwell in the 72nd minute and substitute Kieran Dowell lashed a shot over two minutes later after being teed up by Aarons.
The third goal wouldn’t arrive though, as Coventry ran out of steam and City rolled through their substitutes late in the game, switching to a 5-4-1 formation to seal a second win in five games and reassume control of the promotion race.
It was a first tricky test passed, with the next three matches also against teams battling against relegation, at home to Rotherham on Saturday, back at St Andrew’s on Tuesday to face Birmingham and away to bottom side Wycombe the following Sunday.
NORWICH (4-2-3-1): Krul; Aarons, Hanley (C), Gibson, Giannoulis; Skipp (Tettey 90+3), McLean; Buendia (Zimmermann 87), Vrancic (Dowell 69), Cantwell (Rupp 87); Pukki (Idah 90+3). Unused subs: Barden (GK), Quintilla, Sorensen, Hernandez
Booked: Hanley (foul on Walker, 17), Gibson (foul on Gyokeres, 70), Cantwell (foul on Hamer, 84)
Goals: Pukki (28), Buendia (45+1)
COVENTRY (3-4-2-1): Wilson; Rose (Ostigard 46), McFadzean (C), Hyam; Dacosta (Pask 58), Allen (Biamou 46), James (Kelly 78), Shipley; Hamer, O’Hare; Walker (Gyokeres 64). Unused subs: Marosi (GK), Sheaf, Bapaga, Bakayoko
Booked: Dacosta (foul on Giannoulis, 4)
REFEREE: Jarred Gillett (Australia)