POINTERS: Five observations from City's disappointing 0-0 draw at Millwall
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Chief Norwich City reporter David Freezer delivers his verdict following the Championship leaders' disappointing 0-0 draw at Millwall.
1 - Difficult to avoid frustration
Back-to-back goalless draws are never going to be enjoyable but a fourth clean sheet in five league matches at least avoids a panic, just about.
Keeping a clean sheet at Millwall to go five points clear at the top of the table and a sixth league game unbeaten is clearly nothing to get too uptight about - although that is difficult after two ugly encounters.
A very flat second half brought relief that Kenneth Zohore could only head on to the roof of the net, with blocks needed from Tim Krul, Ben Gibson, Grant Hanley and Dimitris Giannoulis - as well as a late error from substitute Kieran Dowell seeing Jed Wallace miss an open goal.
Combined with a disjointed FA Cup exit at Barnsley, the Canaries have been knocked out of their rhythm - ahead of a huge clash with promotion rivals Swansea on Friday.
New left-back Giannoulis is yet to find the same wavelength as his team-mates consistently and while Lukas Rupp has worked hard in midfield, he hasn't been able to hit the heights that he or Kenny McLean had managed earlier in the season.
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Friday's big match in South Wales now takes on even greater precedence, knowing that defeat will see close to three months as league leaders left on a knife-edge.
2 - Placheta wastes chance to shine
It was Poland international Przemek Placheta getting the nod as Emi Buendia’s replacement, following the Argentine star’s weekend red card.
The 22-year-old was a lively presence during the 0-0 home draw with Millwall back in October, hitting the post, and then became a fully-fledged Poland international the following month – only to miss all of December with a hamstring injury.
He had to be patient last month as he recovered full fitness, being involved in both goals as Coventry were beaten in the FA Cup but hitting the bar as he cut a frustrated figure during the 1-0 defeat at Barnsley in the fourth round.
Starting on the right wing, Placheta drove an early effort over from 25 yards and did force City's first shot on target – something which wasn’t managed at all during the draw with Boro on Saturday – as he skipped across the edge of the box and hit a low effort which Bartosz Bialkowski got down well to hold. It was too close to the keeper though, after doing much of the hard work.
Otherwise however, it was very apparent that the summer signing is a different type of player to the roving Buendia, looking to be fed by creative players more often than he is taking on that mantle himself.
He was replaced by Onel Hernandez with 10 minutes remaining, having seen little of the ball in the second half, with poor control during one attack at least leading to a chance for Teemu Pukki.
3 - Krul's hot streak continues
Tim Krul continued his impressive streak of not conceding in the league though and on this occasion the Dutchman was tested properly, unlike against Boro and Bristol City recently.
The 32-year-old made a crucial stop in the 25th minute after Zohore had beaten Grant Hanley and pulled a cross to Scott Malone on the edge of the box, diving down to his right to parry the shot away.
Zohore had already tested him with an awkward, looping shot but Malone’s dipping and curling effort was a real test of the reflexes.
He was relieved to see Zohore nod tamely onto the roof of his net in the 60th minute after a fine cross to the back post from Malone and also had to deflect a Malone effort away from his near post during the scrappy closing stages.
He's now not conceded in over 700 minutes of league action, with City keeping a 10th clean sheet of the campaign. That's just three short of the 13 managed by the title winners of 2018-19.
4 - More frustration for Pukki
It proved another frustrating shift for top scorer Teemu Pukki, seeing little of the ball up against the Lions’ three-man defence.
He had been found in the box by Rupp in the 30th minute but saw two shots blocked behind for a corner. He did at least hit the target just before the break after a driving run from Olly Skipp, seeing his first attempt blocked by Shaun Hutchinson and Bialkowski get down to hold his low prod.
But it proved to be an extension of a dry spell in open play for Pukki, going a seventh start without a goal from open play, since the 2-1 win at Blackburn in December – although the Finn has converted two penalties since then.
It’s over 10 hours of football since Pukki’s last goal in open play now after a previous hot streak of 8 in 10, only one of which had been a penalty. Opposition teams know all about his threat but his supply line isn’t functioning properly either at the moment.
Ryan Leonard and Hutchinson blocked attempted shots twice in quick succession as the Finland star tried to bludgeon his way through midway through the second half, but in the end it was City clinging on to their point.
5 - Tough nut to crack
Millwall are having quite a strange season of mid-table mediocrity, drawing far too many games - but that includes draws with promotions hopefuls Brentford, Reading, Watford and Bournemouth.
We can now add leaders Norwich (twice) to those teams left frustrated by the solid Lions, whose 3-4-3 formation restricted City to shots from no closer than the edge of the box for the vast majority of the night.
They've only conceded 25 goals in 27 games, just four fewer than the Canaries, and Gary Rowett's side once again protected their goal fiercely.
It was a third clean sheet in four league games for the hosts, who may have only won one of their last eight Championship games - but have also only lost two of those.