Melissa Rudd: Teemu Pukki can put his name alongside Norwich City’s greatest
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
In a season of stand-out performers, it feels almost unfair that only one will hold the Barry Butler Memorial Trophy aloft at the end of the season.
While the recipient will no doubt be honoured to have his name etched alongside some Canary greats, it would act only as the icing on the cake should promotion to the Premier League be achieved.
There are strong cases for several individuals right through the team, but there is one player on the brink of achieving a milestone that hasn’t been reached since a certain Chris Sutton in 1993/94. If Teemu Pukki scores a goal in the remaining eight matches, it will be his 25th in the league this season.
It’s a feat not even the great Grant Holt achieved when Norwich stormed to the League One title in 2009/10, when he bagged 24.
Pukki hasn’t scored in the last three games. If he goes a fourth, it will be his longest drought of a campaign in which he has reminded City fans just how special it is to have a striker firing on all cylinders.
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It’s in such stark contrast to last season, when Norwich’s centre-forwards mustered 10 goals between them. In fact, between Boxing Day and the final day thrashing at Hillsborough, City’s strikers scored just two goals between them in 23 matches (Nelson Oliveira and Dennis Srbeny netting one each).
James Maddison was our star man, of course, but as a midfielder his role was different. It wasn’t his sole responsibility to tear up opposition defences. Quite frankly, there wasn’t a front man at the club who looked anywhere near capable of doing that.
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It was during that particularly painful spell that memories of Holt in his prime, thumping home loose balls from inside the penalty box, powering in headers from set-pieces and generally being an absolute nuisance to opposition defenders felt longer ago than ever.
Cameron Jerome had done well in the season Norwich were promoted under Alex Neil, but the appearance of his name on a team sheet never quite evoked that same feeling of assuredness that Holt’s had. When he was leading the line you knew you had a player ready to pounce, and one that the other team would fear.
Pukki is now that man in yellow and green. While he will be desperate to get back on the scoresheet, it’s still important to acknowledge that his contribution cannot purely be judged on goals. He may be the league’s top scorer, but he offers so much more. The fact that he has nine assists proves it.
Emi Buendia’s sensational mid-air pass to Pukki in the build up to his superb winner against Hull may have grabbed all the headlines and the majority of post-match plaudits, but even in a game where Pukki was a little off colour it was his link-up play that facilitated Buendia’s first-time finish.
Recovering from an unfortunate first touch where the ball bounced underneath his foot, he had to track back to gain control of it then hold off the Hull defender to time his perfect back-heel into Buendia’s path. Against Rotherham on Saturday, it was his deft overhead through ball that Kenny McLean was able to latch on to and put Norwich in the lead.
Then there’s his tireless work rate. Pukki is a vital cog in Daniel Farke’s system in that he presses so hard from the front, harrying defenders and sprinting to try and win the ball back from first minute to last.
It speaks volumes that in a fortnight where the Finn has been quiet by his own standards, he has still set up two goals in what could be precious victories. In the eight games that stand between Norwich City and the Premier League, he’s sure to be crucial to the final outcome. As he lines up for Finland in their European Championship qualifiers, let’s not forget how lucky we are to have him, and perhaps all cross our fingers that he comes back to Norfolk unscathed for the run-in.