Brilliant start was thwarted as Pukki’s search for best form continues
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It looked like Teemu Pukki was going to put Wycombe to the sword almost single-handedly during the opening stages of Norwich City’s third successive win - but Wanderers survived to well and truly rattle the Canaries’ cage.
The Finland star was at the heart of some classy and rapid attacking play as City burst out of the box, pouncing on a wayward header from visiting defender Jack Grimmer inside two minutes, with Todd Cantwell spreading to Xavi Quintilla on the left, only for Wycombe to scramble back into position.
Less than 60 seconds later and Pukki had his second goal of the Championship season, although this was far more satisfying than his first, when Preston keeper Declan Rudd had bundled the striker’s header into his own net during a 2-2 draw last month.
This time there was a familiar feel to the goal, as Emi Buendia stroked a defence-splitting pass with the outside of his boot nicely into the Finn’s path, who saw keeper Ryan Allsopp slip so just took an extra touch to open up the angle and chipped nicely into the net.
It was the kind of cool and clinical finish that Pukki had been so reliable with during his first 18 months as a Norwich player, when his 29 goals earned him the 2018-19 Championship Player of the Season award.
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Things haven’t been quite as sweet for the 30-year-old since a toe injury at Leicester last December and the exertions of firing Finland to their first ever European Championship qualification had caught up with him.
From that point it looked to be a case of how many City could rack up against a Wycombe side looking out of their depth after six successive defeats and just one goal.
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Cutting play from Cantwell, Buendia and Max Aarons on the right led to Cantwell’s dummy allowing him to play Pukki into the right channel, but his low cross towards strike partner Jordan Hugill was cut out by Grimmer in the six-yard box.
Although Pukki technically was playing in the support striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation, this was soon becoming more of a 4-2-2-2 in possession, allowing him to charge forward as normal.
More classy play from Buendia allowed Pukki him to turn and blast a left footed shot just wide in the seventh minute and soon after it was more lovely exchanges between Cantwell and Buendia which played him down the right channel, with Curtis Thompson making the vital interception as his low cross again sought out Hugill rather than attempting a shot.
The lack of a second goal was punished as slack defending allowed Wycombe to equalise and all of a sudden the visitors sprang into life and an energetic display saw them deservedly level at the break - and feeling aggrieved that Ben Gibson hadn’t conceded a penalty and been shown a second yellow card.
In amongst that disappointment Pukki had thumped a volley wide as a Quintilla cross from the left dropped to him at the far post but increasingly he was required to work for the team, trying to close down the visiting defenders as they tried to pump the ball forward at every opportunity.
He could only scuff a shot to Allsopp early in the second half and couldn’t prevent a corner as he tracked back in the 55th minute, slicing at an attempted clearance from that corner and being relieved to see City clear their lines.
Adam Idah replaced Hugill in the 58th minute and his bright play saw Cantwell agonisingly close to sending Pukking clean through just after the hour mark.
His big chance came in the 69th minute as he was able to blast a shot at goal from the right side of the box but it was straight at Allsopp and the keeper was able to parry the powerful effort away.
From there it just became a case of Norwich battering at the door with Hanley, Buendia, Cantwell, Rupp, Idah and Mario Vrancic all thwarted by desperate Wycombe defending, only for their hearts to be broken by the free-kick expertise of substitute Vrancic in the first minute of injury-time.
VERDICT: Let down by the collective loss of control after an extremely bright start to the game but perhaps should have been making sure it was 2-0 before that could happen.
Another game where the partnership with Hugill showed a few encouraging signs but didn’t quite click into gear fully, however with Idah’s foolish injury-time red card they look set for at least another three games to work on that understanding.
It looks to be as much about confidence as physical fitness for Pukki now though and with Buendia and Cantwell potentially getting more space against more ambitious opponents this week, chances should keep coming his way.
RATING: 6 out of 10