Pukki injury emphasises Norwich City’s need for another striker
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Teemu Pukki’s injury worry has emphasised the need for Norwich City to add another established striker to their Premier League mix this summer.
With all of Finland desperately hoping their star man can shake off ankle ligament damage to recover full fitness in time for the start of the Euros, the Canaries also face an anxious wait to see how their top scorer’s summer shapes up.
Pukki may not have made it into the Player of the Season top three at City this season but his prolific return of 26 goals has again been pivotal to the success of Daniel Farke’s team winning the Championship title, with only Brentford's Ivan Toney (30) scoring more.
The 31-year-old has had another busy campaign, notching 31 in 52 matches overall for club and country. Hurting his right ankle during the 4-1 defeat of Reading on Saturday means he misses the final game of the season, at Barnsley on Saturday.
Jordan Hugill is likely to be the beneficiary of the Finn’s absence, having made just six league starts since joining from West Ham, reportedly for an initial fee of £2.6million in an overall deal potentially worth £5m.
Hugill has five goals to his name having been disrupted by a couple of injuries but has been regularly praised for his impact by Farke, with his head coach describing him last week as a ‘key player’, a ‘role model’ and a ‘top character’ who has played a vital part in the lively dressing room spirit – as shown clearly during the promotion and title partying.
Republic of Ireland international Adam Idah has endured a largely frustrating campaign though, disrupted by injury, coronavirus self-isolation and a three-game ban for a petulant red card.
After coming off the bench to score the late winner at Huddersfield on the opening day, the 20-year-old's only other goal came during a cameo at Wycombe in late February, to seal a 2-0 win.
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He hasn’t featured in the last 10 games following a hernia operation in early March, although has been back in training in recent weeks.
So as much as Finland will fret about Pukki being in peak condition for their European Championship opener against Denmark in Copenhagen on June 12, the full impact on Farke’s main striker will also be a big concern for Canaries supporters.
After promotion in 2019, it was Josip Drmic that Farke and sporting director Stuart Webber went for as Pukki’s chief competition, hoping that they could overcome the Switzerland international’s fitness issues and get him back to his Bundesliga pomp.
That didn’t work out, with Dennis Srbeny also initially in the mix before being sold to Paderborn mid-season following Drmic’s return from injury and Idah’s emergence as the club’s youngest ever hat-trick scorer during an FA Cup win at Preston.
Idah could well be facing a loan to get his development back on track - having signed a new deal in December to extend terms until 2024 - but it seems likely that the Irish youngster and Hugill will at least get chances to impress during pre-season, given Pukki’s injury and international situation.
During 2019-20 it had been a strong start from Pukki, maintaining his Championship confidence to rack up nine Premier League goals prior to Christmas and also sealing Finland’s qualification for their first European Championship.
However, a toe injury during a 1-1 draw at Leicester in mid-December led to the Finn playing through the pain and slowly seeing his confidence eroded, managing just two penalties during his final 21 games as City slumped to relegation.
Buoyed by another prolific second-tier campaign - which has lifted him to 10th in the club’s all-time top scorers’ list – it seemed that Pukki was primed for another crack at the Premier League.
It always seemed likely that top-level competition would join him though, even before the ankle injury which has teed up an uncertain few weeks.
Physical forward Hugill, 28, was afforded just three brief Premier League cameos at West Ham and Idah was given a taste of the top tier in 12 matches last season, all but one of which were as a substitute.
It means the champions head to Oakwell without their top scorer as well as defensive midfielder Oliver Skipp, who returned early to Tottenham and had surgery on a fractured foot bone, having finished third in City’s Player of the Season voting.
All that really matters is the chance to lift the trophy after the final whistle, after a gruelling season both physically and mentally. But if Hugill or Idah could lay down an early marker for pre-season, it would certainly strengthen their cause as the squad upgrade begins.
The trio have managed a combined 32 Championship goals this season, so have done their job, even if Pukki has carried the majority of the load.
Webber admitted it felt like he had sent Farke "to war without a gun" after last year's miserable top-flight relegation. Just 26 goals were scored in 38 games, contributing to a paltry 21 points and finishing bottom.
Even if Pukki survives the summer unscathed to reclaim form and fitness, taking some of the goal-scoring pressure off his shoulders has to be a priority.
City strikers this season (league only)
PUKKI: 26 goals, 4 assists - 41 games (2 as sub), 3,451 minutes total - average of a goal every 133 mins
HUGILL: 4 goals, 0 assists - 30 games (24 as sub), 602 minutes total - average of a goal every 151 mins
IDAH: 2 goals, 1 assist - 16 games (15 as sub), 287 minutes total - average of a goal every 144 mins