Six things you might have missed after City's rejuvenating weekend
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
After a rejuvenating Valentine's weekend at home for Norwich City, David Freezer takes a look at six things you might have missed following the Championship leaders' 4-1 win over Stoke.
1 – Famine to feast
As the Norwich players forlornly watched unmarked Champions League winner Jon Obi Mikel fire goalwards in just the second minute, they must have had a sinking feeling. Fortunately, the former Chelsea midfielder fired just wide from that early corner.
It kicked the hosts into life with an attacking intensity and sharpness to their passing which soon had the goal of former Norwich number one Angus Gunn under sustained attack, with head coach Daniel Farke an animated and demanding force on the sidelines.
Todd Cantwell took the bull by the horns with skill and determination to puncture Stoke’s resistance in the 15th minute and end the four-game goal drought.
The relief of pressure was obvious and City deservedly ran out 4-1 winners.
It was the first time Farke’s men had managed three goals in a Carrow Road game since the famous 3-2 humbling of Manchester City in 2019, 32 home matches ago, and the first four-goal haul in NR1 since thumping QPR 4-0 in April of that year.
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2 – Pukki power?
If Cantwell’s thumping opener felt like a big moment, seeing Teemu Pukki slot home from close range for 2-0 just before the break felt huge – personally and collectively.
It brought an end to a run of eight games and two months without a goal from open play, with the Finn appearing emotional as he gratefully hugged Emi Buendia for his tenacious assist.
Successfully converting the penalty won by Buendia to wrap up the victory took the 30-year-old's tally for the season to 13 goals in 25 Championship games – just three fewer than he had after 25 appearances during 2018-19.
It moves him level 21st with Wes Hoolahan on 54 goals among City’s all-time time top scorers and just three players have scored more than him in the division this season.
Pukki scored 12 goals in his final 17 matches of 2018-19 to win the Golden Boot. While Brentford’s Ivan Toney looks to have that prize wrapped up, there’s every chance the Finland star can still break the 20-goal barrier.
3 – Irrepressible Emi
Much had been said about Buendia’s importance to City during his two-game suspension and the Argentine proved those points emphatically.
He very nearly opened the scoring after just five minutes, starting the attack by picking out Dimitris Giannoulis on the left, but Gunn clawed out the close-range effort after he’d been played in by Mario Vrancic. The 24-year-old looked like a man on a mission though.
The flowing team move which led to the opener - featuring 20 passes and every Norwich player other than Max Aarons getting a touch - sparked into life when Buendia sucked two Stoke players towards him before prodding through to eventual goal-scorer Cantwell.
Eight goals equal his personal tally during his breakthrough 2018-19 campaign, when he also managed 12 league assists. He currently has seven assists, emphasising how his game has evolved since City’s title win two years ago.
One goal, one assist, one penalty won – one extremely important player.
4 – Staying grounded
Never too high, never too low. That’s how successful teams try to operate and as satisfying as it was to see Brentford slip to a 2-0 home defeat to Barnsley on Sunday, the Canaries know full well that top spot doesn’t matter just yet. Daniel Farke has stressed that point on several occasions already.
City are back on top, with a bit of help from academy product Carlton Morris scoring his first Championship goal as Barnsley halted the Bees’ impressive unbeaten run at 21 matches.
With Swansea seeing their game at Sheffield Wednesday postponed, Norwich have returned to the driving seat in the automatic promotion race – and still have four points more they did after 29 matches in 2018-19.
Four consecutive games against teams in the relegation scrap will not lure City into any false sense of security though, the Championship is too frenetic for that and while Stoke were beaten 4-1, they also had a Steve Fletcher goal disallowed for offside and applied plenty of pressure, with the help of a few sloppy Norwich mistakes along the way.
5 – Show of strength
The Potters’ goal came from the worst of those mistakes, as Giannoulis committed the football sin of attempting to pass across his own penalty area, giving Nick Powell a simple chance to make the score 2-1.
After a bruising debut against Boro and a tired effort at Millwall the Greece international could have wilted under the pressure – but he stuck out his chest and swiftly made up for his error.
His attacking intent, shimmy and burst of pace to tee up Buendia’s goal for his first City assist brought a celebration closer to relief than joy, as the left-back drew breath in front of the depressingly empty Barclay Stand amid the goal celebrations.
Overall, this was a step forward for the PAOK loanee, making the most tackles (six) of anyone on the pitch and with only Ben Gibson (77) having more than his 76 touches of the ball. A horrible mistake could well prove a turning point for the January arrival, if he can build from here.
6 – Consistent class
Olly Skipp was in the wars late on, after coming off worst after an aerial collision in the City box. The Tottenham loanee appeared to be concussed at first but it was actually a painful eye injury which left him looking off-balance.
Up to that blow however the midfielder had been excellent. From bailing out a Ben Gibson mistake, to a slamming tackle to halt a Stoke counter, or setting the tempo in the flowing team move which led to Cantwell’s goal, Skipp was everywhere.
He continues alongside England Under-21 team-mate Aarons as the only player to have started all 29 of City’s league games so far this season – another player who was in fine form.
The right-back twice set up Vrancic early on, was in the thick of the move which earned the penalty and also made a crucial tackle at 3-1, after a wobbly Skipp had under-hit a pass.
Two young men with big futures ahead of them, who Farke will hope can see out the season as ever-presents.