David Freezer: Six things you might have missed following City’s stalemate at Newcastle
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
As the search for Premier League survival continues, David Freezer reviews Norwich City’s 0-0 draw at Newcastle and assesses great escapes from recent top-flight seasons.
1 - No hard luck story this time
This hugely frustrating draw may have had a similar feel to City's recent matches but on this occasion not winning was not a hard luck story.
City had 19 shots at St James' Park, their most in an away game this season and second most of all of their 25 games. They also enjoyed 57pc of possession and while the hosts did have chances, the loud boos which greeted the final whistle said a great deal about Newcastle's inferiority.
BBC Sport's stats gurus point out that just one team has ever had 19 shots without scoring in a Premier League game before, pointing to just how unusual that dominance in a goalless away draw is.
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Sam Byram, Teemu Pukki and Ondrej Duda all went close twice, Kenny McLean made a mess of a fine headed opportunity and both Onel Hernandez and Todd Cantwell failed to pull the trigger at crucial moments.
There was no VAR decision or unfortunate deflection to blame, this was another case of chances not being taken - plenty of them.
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2 - Survival precedent does exist
Seven points from safety and with just 18 points from 25 games may feel bleak - but survival is still possible.
The most recent of three precedents is Palace in 2017, who were 19th with one point more at this stage but roared to 14th and 41 points by taking a superb 22 from their final 13 matches under Sam Allardyce - beating Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham in the process.
The season before it was Allardyce again, with his Sunderland side 19th on 20 points but claiming 19 from their final 13 matches to finish 17th on 39. Seven of those were draws and one of the wins was that crucial 3-0 victory at Carrow Road.
While the great escape achieved by Leicester in 2015 saw them rise from 20th and with one fewer point than City currently have, surging to 14th and 41 points, having taken a brilliant 24 from their final 13 crunch clashes.
It's going to take something truly special to survive but all hope is not lost - Leicester won seven of their last nine!
3 - Dry spell continues for Pukki
Pukki's dry spell in open play continued chiefly because of two good saves from Newcastle keeper Martin Dubravka.
Denying a rising shot in the first half and getting a slight but crucial touch to a second half attempt, after Pukki had combined well with Duda to go clean through, were the game's key moments - as well as a brilliant tackle from Federico Fernandez after the Finn had been freed by fine play from Lukas Rupp.
It leaves City's top scorer without a goal in open play since his strike at Leicester in mid-December, with his two goals in his last seven league games both being from the penalty spot.
It also leaves the Canaries with just one goal from open play from their last five league games, when Cantwell scored during the 1-1 home draw with Crystal Palace.
Only Watford (23) and Palace (22) have scored fewer than City's 24 goals - leaving them in dire need of their star striker rediscovering his magic touch, and quickly.
4 - Too much pressure on striker
That frustrating spell for Pukki, which coincided with the toe injury picked up in that game at Leicester, emphasises that City are far too reliant on their main man though.
Other than Cantwell's six goals, the support from his team-mates has not been good enough. Duda and Rupp have only just come into the team, so can be excused for now and have shown some promising signs.
But for Emi Beundia, Tom Trybull, Marco Stiepermann and all of City's defenders to be on no Premier League goals in February and Josip Drmic, Onel Hernandez, Kenny McLean and Mario Vrancic all to still be just on one each is putting far too much pressure on Pukki.
The Finland star is joint eighth top scorer in the top flight with 11 goals, 46pc of City's total so far.
Of the players to have scored that many, only Danny Ings at Southampton (45pc) and Aresnal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (44pc) rival him for importance.
5 - Confidence is building for captain
While Tim Krul was thrilled with a clean sheet on his first proper return to St James' Park, another former Newcastle player will have been thoroughly satisfied with his efforts as well.
City skipper Grant Hanley only made 17 appearances during his year with the Magpies, prior to a £3.5m move to Norwich in 2017.
Since finally finding full fitness the Scot has been in decent form but saw Ben Godfrey picked ahead of him against Bournemouth once fit, only for the England U21 prospect's red card to earn a three-game ban.
Two weeks ago I asked if Hanley can prove he has the passing game to keep the youngster out - on Saturday he had City's best successful pass completion rate of 94pc and dealt with several high pressure moments well.
He also made the most clearances (nine) and interceptions (three) in the City team, with his vocal leadership clear at a quiet and nervous stadium - adding to his FA Cup goal.
6 - Corners provided an insight
Another sign of both City's dominance and profligacy was a season high of 12 corners at Newcastle.
That was more than in their last four league games combined and only the fifth league match of the Daniel Farke era in which the Canaries have had 12 or more in a single game - a sample size of 117 matches.
Duda took 11 of them and in general the quality was decent, largely delivered into dangerous areas, but with the Magpies among the best in the division aerially and fielding three tall central defenders, those aerial battles were mostly lost.
Earning so many not just emphasises the pressure that the hosts were under but also points to the attacking intent being shown by Farke's team.
Yet Newcastle ground out another point and despite their defensive intent find themselves 12th and on course for safety. The style of play is unlikely to keep Steve Bruce in a job long term but it points to the realities of Premier League survival.