'He's a standout in this league' - McLean hails progress of City star Buendia
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Kenny McLean feels Norwich City team-mate Emi Buendia is reaching new levels of quality and consistency, hailing the 'sublime' match-winner against Barnsley which extended the Canaries' lead at the top of the Championship table.
It was McLean who teed up the game's deciding moment in the 62nd minute at Carrow Road, spotting the Argentine's run and lifting a pass from the halfway line into the penalty area. Then it was over to Buendia.
Taking the ball in his stride, the 24-year-old swivelled and expertly volleyed the ball low under Tykes keeper Jack Walton from 10 yards out to break the deadlock against the tenacious and in-form visitors.
“The quality he’s got is there in abundance every week," McLean said of the attacking midfielder. "He makes my mind up with the pass because he demands it so much, he doesn’t make runs for the sake of it.
“You see it in the intensity of his runs and the speed of his runs. It’s quite an easy ball to be honest, there’s not much on it and the quality of the finish is just sublime really.”
Asked if any other Championship player could have executed such a wonderful finish, which will surely be among the division's contenders for goal of the season, the Scotland international continued: “Off the top of my head, no one other than Emi.
"I think he’s a standout in this league and he’s showing it more and more now, on a consistent basis, which is going to take him to new levels.
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“It’s excellent for us and hopefully he can continue that form.”
Barnsley had won 10 of their opening 15 games under manager Valerien Ismael to edge into the play-off mix and, despite being without four players due to Covid-19, they gave the leaders a real run for their money.
Luke Thomas hit the crossbar and Cauley Woodrow fired just wide in the first half, with Callum Brittain recovering well to deny City striker Teemu Pukki on the line as well.
After the break however they needed keeper Walton to deny Pukki, Todd Cantwell and Jacob Sorensen, with substitute Jordan Hugill also seeing an injury-time goal ruled out for offside - before the visitors very nearly snatched an equaliser in the fourth added minute, with defender Michal Helik just unable to convert a Styles cross from the left.
“We knew we were up against a very good team," McLean said of the victory. "Since the new manager has come in for them they’ve been excellent really, the way they press and put teams under pressure.
“We found that out, they pressed us really well but we always found a way and we could have made life a little bit easier for ourselves.
“But in the end, I lost the ball late on and we almost ended up with a draw. So we made things hard for ourselves but it was a good performance.”
Victory pushed the Canaries four points clear of Swansea at the summit and six ahead of third place as the season reaches its halfway point, although with Brentford, Bournemouth and Watford all having a game in hand.
Barnsley had shown more ambition than many teams at Carrow Road so far this season, rather than just sitting deep and defending, which McLean admitted suited Daniel Farke's approach.
“It suits us," the Scot added. "Of course we want to bring people out of their press and with the way we play we can bypass that, so it worked a lot of times but there’s going to be times when they press as well and we can’t get out and need another option.
“We showed that and towards the end it was really pleasing. It feels good, when you grind out the result, sometimes it feels that bit better, the 1-0s when you can see the togetherness and everyone is fighting for each other.”