McLean’s busy shift emphasised City’s squad strength during victory without Rupp
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It’s been a slightly strange start to the season for Kenny McLean but the midfielder had the chance to impress after seven matches out of the starting line-up as Norwich City took on fellow promotion hopefuls Swansea.
The 28-year-old signed a new three-year contract on the eve of the new season, with praise from head coach Daniel Farke ringing in his ears, and started the first three Championship matches.
However, a sloppy loss of possession ahead of the deciding goal during the 1-0 defeat at Bournemouth gave Lukas Rupp the chance to shine and he’d had to make do with a place on the bench ever since.
At the start of October he went away with Scotland and made three appearances to take his international caps to 14, making headlines with the decisive penalty in a shoot-out victory over Israel in the European Championship qualification play-off semi-finals.
Yet it wasn’t until the 69th minute at Brentford at the end of last month that McLean re-emerged, with a welcome slice of luck seeing his shot deflect in for a late equaliser to earn an important away draw - proving once again that it you don’t shoot, you don’t score.
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Two further cameos from the bench as an unbeaten run continued gave way to Rupp’s hamstring strain allowing him a return to the starting line-up against the Swans, and he very nearly made an immediate impact.
In just the fifth minute he was played into the box by Pukki and his low cross was just cut out by visiting defender Kyle Naughton with Przemek Placheta close by. Jacob Sorensen won back possession and McLean did well to prod Max Aarons through on the right under pressure, with the full-back finding Placheta but Naughton making a fine block to deny the Pole’s shot.
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McLean was full of energy and buzzing around the pitch, seeing a cross blocked on the left wing, although he was thankful to Sorensen and Marco Stiepermann for helping him out after being robbed in his own half by Jay Fulton in the 12th minute.
He again linked with Pukki in attack in the 25th minute but saw his shot charged down, then charged out wide to prevent Marc Guehi being able to clear his lines. Three minutes later he was holding his hand out in apology after putting too much on a pass through to Emi Buendia, which happened again soon after with Pukki.
In between those two frustrating moments though he climbed high to win a header above Kasey Palmer and nod down a goal-kick from Swans keeper Freddie Woodman, emphasising one of the key parts of his game.
It was a bright start to the second half as well, with the score still at 0-0, starting an attack and eventually seeing a shot charged down by Fulton on the edge of the box, before tracking back to rob Palmer and keep the attack going, with Buendia finding Pukki but the Finn denied by a last-ditch block from Connor Roberts.
He was relieved to see Tim Krul deny Jamal Lowe in the 64th minute but even more relieved as he did well to clear ahead of Andre Ayew, only for his clearance to go straight to a Swans player but not prove costly.
McLean needed treatment as he took a whack to the head in the 74th minute as he tried to get on the end of a Buendia corner but was okay to continue and soon after lovely play from substitute Bali Mumba on the left just saw the Scot denied a shooting chance.
Back up the other end in a breathless encounter between two good teams and it was another big sigh of relief in the 79th minute, as he failed to track Lowe’s run into the box to get on the end of a flick from Ayew - but there was Krul to the rescue again.
Five minutes later and Mumba produced some magic again to allow Buendia to tee up Stiepermann for the crucial goal, with McLean giving his team-mate a big hug as he talked into his ear for a few seconds amid the celebrations, after a first goal in over 16 months.
There was one final crucial interception to prevent Ayew getting into the box in the 87th minute but City had done enough to stretch their unbeaten run to seven games, with a fifth win during that hot streak, with Alex Tettey joining the defensive effort for the closing minutes.
VERDICT: Plenty of energy, taking on the box-to-box role with a decent shift against very competitive opposition. Wasn’t quite able to have the same creative impact as Lukas Rupp but that probably emphasises just how good the dynamic German has been recently.
A performance that emphasised the strength in depth Farke has, being able to turn to Championship title winners in McLean and Christoph Zimmermann in the absence of Rupp and Gibson.
Will join up with Scotland alongside Grant Hanley with a smile on his face, ahead of a tough play-off final in Serbia on Thursday, as the Scots aim for a first tournament since the 1998 World Cup.
RATING: 7 out of 10