Paddy’s Pointers: Five observations from Norwich City’s eventful 3-2 Championship win against Stoke City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Group Football Editor Paddy Davitt delivers his Stoke City verdict after the Canaries’ gruelling 3-2 Championship victory.
1. Scream if you want to go faster
As Daniel Farke likes to say, if the Premier League is the best league in the world, the Championship is the toughest. Never a truer word spoken. City remain top 13 games in to what already feels like a torturous trek.
This latest match in the Potteries against a Stoke side who look to be on an upward curve under Michael O’Neill was as much a testament to the rollercoaster nature of Championship combat as it was a demonstration of Norwich’s remarkable will to resist.
There was more than a self-inflicted element to what unfolded in the aftermath of Emi Buendia’s rash brace of yellow cards, but given the scale of the injuries going into this game, and the latest bitter twist with Tim Krul’s first half exit, you can only marvel at the character and fighting spirit.
Farke’s leaders should never have been hanging on at 3-0 up but as the head coach recently pointed out, the momentum can shift alarmingly quickly in this league. To prevail and return to Norfolk with a maximum haul from tough assignments at Middlesbrough and now Stoke in recent days would have been some effort with a full roster available.
To achieve it in trying circumstances suggests once more this group of players under this head coach have the stomach for the fight.
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2. How big? Mammoth
Despite a congested medical room at Norwich, there was still a degree of comfort to be had from the fact none of the key frontline operators had yet succumbed. Those players who are pivotal to hopes for a Championship promotion triumph. Those players who simply cannot be replaced. That was until Krul pulled up after a clearance late in the first half.
This is a man who has had his fair share of injury problems in a career that can almost be split into two parts.
The period prior to a serious knee ligament injury, when his star shone at Newcastle, and then afterwards. A darker place where he was on the bench for Brighton until Norwich offered him a lifeline. Krul immediately signalled to the away dugout his race was run as he rubbed his left thigh. Followed by a sad, slow trudge down the tunnel.
Now we wait for the full extent of this latest setback. The pessimists will fear the worst given the almost hourly bulletins Farke has had to deliver of late. The City chief is already prepared to rule him out of Coventry’s weekend visit.
Michael McGovern is a hugely experienced understudy but Krul’s influence on this Norwich side is incalculable. He is a soothing presence and a huge character. Fans and team mates will crave positive news.
3. The first but not the last
Josh Martin has the talent. He also exhibits the fearlessness he is ready to showcase it on a regular basis for Norwich City. Injury curtailed his bid to continue his eye-catching pre-season form when the real action began.
Then perhaps Przemyslaw Placheta’s smooth adaptation from Polish football further hindered his prospects.
But Farke revealed after a full debut at Stoke brimming with promise Martin’s recent training performances were simply too good to ignore any longer.
His quick feet triggered the move that led to Norwich’s opener.
His threaded pass brought Pukki a second goal on the night and, as it turned out, vital insurance to quell Stoke’s fightback.
There was also a pinpoint corner dropped on the head of the unmarked Grant Hanley, who simply misjudged the flight of the ball as it sailed tantalisingly beyond the far post. It was an impressive showreel from a player who may find he has his second senior start before the week is out now Buendia is suspended.
Bali Mumba may rightfully have hogged the headlines when the duo were introduced to turn that last Swansea home win. But this was Martin’s chance to dazzle. It will not be his last.
4. Purring Pukki
O’Neill has seen enough international football in his previous posting as Northern Ireland boss to recognise quality when he sees it.
Now Stoke chief he conceded for all his side’s efforts to wipe out a 3-0 deficit they had come up against the best team they had faced so far. Spearheaded by a player O’Neill had no hesitation in labelling the ‘best striker in this division’.
That is some accolade given the talent that exists in the second tier.
This is no nod to former glories either, given how Pukki plundered last time around. He is currently in a rich vein for club and country.
A Stoke brace took his recent tally to eight in 10 games. The finish for his first was instinctive and the strike of a man who appears fully over his Premier League struggles in the second part of last season. He looks confident and content.
Farke suggested his second half substitute was a precautionary measure after feeling a twinge in his hamstring. Given Adam Idah and Jordan Hugill are unavailable, Pukki is now a precious commodity. Like Krul, in this goalscoring form he is an impossible act to follow at Norwich.
5. Back in the old routine
To follow Farke’s post-match lead, perhaps on this occasion we can cut Buendia some slack. Norwich did it the hard way but still won a game he, more than most, helped put the visitors in the driving seat.
Norwich’s previous Championship title success was a collection of many parts. But chief among those was the blossoming partnership between Buendia and Pukki.
The duo appeared to develop an almost telepathic understanding. To watch them from afar was to witness two operators in synch. Routinely it was too good for the Championship last time around.
The Premier League was a bruising experience for both, as it was the rest of those still left in the building.
But there have been growing signs the pair fancy an encore. Pukki has been back among the goals in the type of quantities we took for granted last time in the second tier.
Buendia’s importance to City’s creative urges is visible with each passing week. Here they combined in a move that would have graced the top flight. Buendia instantly knew Pukki was making a run in behind as he pivoted, and the GOAT knew the Argentine’s pass would land in his path as he chested the ball and then guided an unerringly accurate angled finish into the far corner.
If City’s dynamic duo are back in the groove, the rest should watch out.