Pukki (9), Dowell (13)
No Emi, no problem, as City close on promotion in style
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City have moved a step closer to confirming promotion in style, setting a new club record as they restored their 10-point lead at the Championship summit with a 2-0 victory at Nottingham Forest.
Early goals from Teemu Pukki and Kieran Dowell set the leaders on their way to a ninth win on the spin, the first time any Canaries team have managed that streak in all competitions.
City's second-tier champions of 1985-86 did manage 10 consecutive league triumphs, which was interrupted by an FA Cup defeat, so that will be the next target but the current focus is promotion - and that is looking an increasing certainty.
Thanks to Swansea's 3-0 loss at Bournemouth on Tuesday, Daniel Farke's impressive side are now 13 points clear of the third-placed Swans with nine games remaining, although the Welsh side do still have a game in hand.
Victory was made even more satisfying by the big news ahead of kick-off, with the influential Emi Buendia unavailable following the birth of his second child the night before.
The birth of Giovanni, the Argentine's second son, meant that after a busy night with minimal sleep the new dad decided to rule himself out of action to stay with his family in Norfolk.
The Canaries had won just one of their six league games without Buendia earlier in the season, 1-0 at Huddersfield on the opening day, with the Argentine having 10 goals and 12 assists to his name.
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That meant a first league start of 2021 for Dowell after his injury issues, against former loan club Forest, who were forced into five changes due to injuries including former City striker Lewis Grabban returning up front.
The hosts had worked their way steadily clear of relegation trouble as former Norwich boss Chris Hughton improved their defensive strength following his October arrival - but they were blown away by the leaders in the opening 14 minutes.
Dowell had already gone close with an early shot and Pukki opened the scoring in the ninth minute, with his 11th goal in nine games and 22nd of the season overall.
The Finland star was found on the edge of the box by Lukas Rupp and spun into the right channel before unleashing a low shot which flew under keeper Jordan Smith into the bottom-left corner.
City had the bit between their teeth and were expressing their attacking instincts in spite of Buendia's absence, with sharp passing and movement leaving a bewildered home side chasing shadows.
Four minutes later and it was 2-0, with Dowell scoring his second goal of the season six months after his first, thanks to his ankle injury in September.
Again it was the lively Rupp teeing up the chance as he completed a one-two, with Dowell smashing a low shot from the right side of the box with his strong left foot, flying into the bottom-right corner and again giving Smith little chance.
Ryan Yates did power a header over from a Forest corner in the 17th minute but otherwise the hosts just couldn't cope with the confidence and dominance of possession from a team seemingly well on their way back to the Premier League.
Pukki fired into the side-netting and combined with Todd Cantwell to create a big opening for Kenny McLean, only for Smith to spread himself well and deny the Scot.
Luke Freeman had Tim Krul at full stretch five minutes after the break, lashing a low shot beyond the far post from the left side of the box.
The Canaries number one was forced to make a crucial intervention three minutes later, as Forest showed signs of life, charging out and spreading himself to thwart Grabban.
Pukki was denied by the feet of Smith in the 58th minute as the visitors sought to reassert control and six minutes later McLean sent the Finn down the right, who found Cantwell in the box but the midfielder couldn't turn his clever movement into the third goal as he slipped the ball past the left post.
Dowell controlled a lovely long ball from Ben Gibson in the 73rd minute but Pukki's close-range shot was blocked by Scott McKenna.
The game rather lost its shape from there as both teams rolled through their substitutions but City largely had the control of possession they desired, leaving their hosts visibly tired.
Dimitris Giannoulis drove a shot wide as well but the main focus was making sure of a sixth clean sheet in nine games - to move to 82 points and retain total control of the automatic promotion race.
Onel Hernandez was among the late replacements for the Canaries, with the Cuban winger making his 100th appearance for the club.
Next up is a home clash with Blackburn on Saturday (3pm), who are hosting mid-table rivals Bristol City this evening in a later kick-off, ahead of the international break.
FOREST (4-2-3-1): Smith; Christie, Figueiredo, McKenna, Blackett; Yates (Murray 86), Garner; Freeman (Mighten 76), Cafu, Ameobi; Grabban (C - Taylor 76). Unused subs: Diallo (GK), Mbe Soh, Ribeiro, Colback, Jenkinson, Krovinovic
NORWICH (4-2-3-1): Krul; Aarons, Hanley (C), Gibson, Giannoulis; Skipp (Zimmermann 90+3), McLean; Dowell (Hernandez 88), Rupp (Sorensen 85), Cantwell (Tettey 90+3); Pukki (Hugill 88). Unused subs: Nyland (GK), Vrancic, Stiepermann, Placheta
Booked: Skipp (foul on Yates, 48)
REFEREE: Leigh Doughty (Lancashire)