Melissa Rudd: Pukki’s in a class of his own – and there’s the problem
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
After watching City play Newcastle off the park in August, it would have been hard to believe Steve Bruce’s side would be 13 points better off the next time the sides were to meet.
Newcastle may have been woeful that day, but it was a seriously slick home display from a team brimming with confidence and belief that left a real impression. It set the bar high for what fans might be able to expect at Carrow Road, and filled them with promise and excitement about the season ahead.
On that glorious summer's day, Teemu Pukki could barely put a foot wrong on his way to scoring a hat-trick.
At St James' Park on Saturday he squandered two gilt-edged chances as Norwich failed to win another game that on the balance of play they deserved to.
Pukki may be experiencing a crisis of confidence in front of goal (he's now gone seven games without scoring from open play), but the reason it's hurting City so much is because of their dependency on last season's Championship top scorer to find the net.
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The Premier League uses Opta to provide statistics on everything from the number of last-man tackles made by a player to high claims made by a goalkeeper. It also records the number of big chances missed, defined as "a situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score". Pukki's tally has reached nine for the season so far.
The Finn is nowhere near to being the league's biggest culprit; that falls to Chelsea's Tammy Abraham, who has missed 16. In fact, there are eight players who are guilty of missing more. Six of those, however, play for the current top four teams, sides that on average create far more chances per game, and whose goals are spread around the squad over the course of a season.
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At Norwich, just two players have scored more than once in the top flight - Pukki (11) and Todd Cantwell (6), while only six others have chipped in with a goal. There may be 13 matches still to play, but that's a far cry from last season, when 17 different players got their name on the scoresheet, 12 of those on more than one occasion.
The last time City were blessed with a striker able to surpass double figures in a Premier League season was in 2011-12. A lack of goals has been one of their biggest problems in the campaigns spent in the top division since, resulting in two of the previous three ending in relegation.
Even when Grant Holt seemed to be banging goals in for fun, though, he was helped out by the likes of Anthony Pilkington, Steve Morison and Wes Hoolahan taking the pressure off his broad shoulders. They scored another 21 between them. Pukki has enjoyed no such luxury.
City scored 52 goals that season with Holt getting 15 of them. While you'd like to think Pukki will beat that personal total, with less than a third of the season left Norwich have not even scored half that amount. As it stands they are on course to score even fewer than they did under Alex Neil four years ago. That shows just how reliant Daniel Farke's side has been on one individual to produce the most precious commodity in any given game.
It's why Pukki has played more minutes than any other City player so far, despite suffering a toe injury two months ago that looks as though it has hampered him. This winter break could not have come at a better time for him to recharge his batteries.
As for the team as a whole, there was no disgrace in earning a goalless draw on Tyneside when you consider only three teams in Arsenal, Everton and Leicester have come away with more. Yet that can't detract from the fact that given Norwich's current predicament it was a must-win game if they were to realistically start plotting a great escape ahead of four consecutive league fixtures against top eight teams.