Six things you might have missed from the Canaries’ 2-1 win over Blackburn Rovers
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City's win at Blackburn Rovers cements their place at the top of the Championship. Our correspondent Connor Southwell analyses the game at Ewood Park.
1 – Promotion credentials
Let’s clear one thing up. It’s far too early to be using the ‘P’ word, but Norwich City’s victory over Blackburn Rovers was further proof that the Canaries have the ability to compete at the top end of the Championship.
Last season, they were criticised loudly from some quarters about their soft underbelly and perceived niceness. This current crop of Canaries are made of stronger stuff. They possess the mentality to grind out results against resilient opposition.
Rovers are the first who looked to beat City at their own game. They didn’t want to engage in the cat and mouse encounters witnessed recently at Carrow Road. They wanted to be the protagonists and enjoyed more of the ball than Farke’s side.
City’s management of the game allowed them to dictate it beyond one spell in the second half. It was the cliched perfect away performance as they flexed their promotion credentials against a quality opponent. It is too early to discuss whether they will be in that mix come May, but performances like this will only boost their chances of an immediate return to the top-flight.
2 – Pukki prowess
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It is often said that if strikers can achieve a rate of one goal every two matches in a season, then they are of an elite level.
Teemu Pukki has managed to achieve that across a period of three years, including six months of profligacy in the Premier League. His strike rate since arriving on a free transfer has been nothing short of exceptional.
With a reputation from a failed spell at Celtic on his shoulders, Pukki arrived at Carrow Road with everything to prove. Nobody expected this sort of return. The Finn has now broken into the Canaries top 25 top scorers list, sitting joint 24th alongside World Cup winner Martin Peters.
It wasn’t just his goals at Ewood Park that impressed, it was his overall game. The manner in which he pressed terrified Rovers defenders to the extent that Darragh Lenihan would have been having nightmares about the Finn on Saturday evening.
Instinctiveness sums up Pukki. He has the intellect to occupy positions that allow him to smell goals before the ball arrives. As Emi Buendia struck from range, Pukki stuck out a leg and diverted the ball into the net. Brilliance that sums the up the Finnish international.
Strikers are often characterised as selfish because of their obsession with scoring goals. Pukki defies that description. He looks happy again. Forget best ever free transfer, he’s up there with City’s best ever signing.
3 – Magic Mike
Michael McGovern has taken criticism since he came into the starting XI to deputise for the injured Tim Krul. Some of it just, some of it needless.
There have been errors, that is to be expected from a goalkeeper who has only started one of the last 149 league games prior to this run of starts. When an outfield player comes in from the cold or returns from injury, then leeway is provided on the basis that they need to get back up to match speed.
McGovern didn’t need to put in the quality of performances that Krul has displayed consistently in the last two seasons, he just needed to be dependable.
The Nottingham Forest game was a step forward in terms of confidence and momentum. Blackburn saw him excel, especially as he produced a wonderful reflex stop to deny Sam Gallagher from a corner early on.
Similarly to Tettey, he is a reliable, well-liked and loyal servant. There are flaws to his game and he wouldn’t shirk from them. But he has proven his worth, and City know they can wait for Krul to return to full fitness before introducing back into the side.
If that was McGovern’s last fixture understudying, then he has done an admirable job despite a few mistakes, as is to be expected of a second-choice keeper.
4 – Martin on the cusp
Josh Martin feels so close to being an absolute revelation for Norwich City.
His first senior goal arrived as he began the turnaround against Sheffield Wednesday last weekend and the plaudits were certainly out saluting another meteoric rise for a player who has developed rapidly since swapping Arsenal for Carrow Road.
In tight spaces, Martin’s technical skill is exciting. He doesn’t look out of place in the Canaries starting line-up and has shades of Todd Cantwell’s breakthrough season two years ago about the way in which he operates.
But he is close to something.
At Ewood Park, there was one moment where he exchanged passes with Jacob Sorensen and ran at Blackburn centrally. The pitch opened up for him to unleash a shot a goal but instead he elected to pass to Mario Vrancic. Another prior to Pukki’s opener when a corner fell nicely for him to strike only for the teenager to take an extra, unneeded touch
Martin seems as though he doesn’t possess the authority within the current squad of taking risks. There is a safety to his play, that is to be expected as he feels his way into senior football. But the talented is unquestionable. When Daniel Farke unleashes that confidence and encourages those mistakes, the 19-year-old is going to be a force to be reckoned with.
5 – Alexander the Great
It was a day of breaking milestones and sketching names within the Norwich City history books at Ewood Park.
Although the attentions will be, rightly, on Pukki’s ton and his subsequent strike rate. In the background Alex Tettey has recorded his 250th game in yellow and green. The Norwegian will be happy with his teammates taking the limelight, it is the same reason he has expressed his reluctance at a testimonial behind the scenes.
The midfielder has defied eras and been written off more times than is worth remembering. Yet, he has bounced off the canvas and kept proving people wrong. Under Farke, there is tangible improvement to his game.
His appearances may be somewhat sporadic and, like Mario Vrancic, certain games are better suited to extracting his qualities, but whenever the Canaries require him, he will be waiting. Whether he elects to go and put his feet up in the snow back in Norway or commit to another contract at Carrow Road, Tettey will be remembered as a true City great.
Not just on the pitch, but his leadership and character off it. He has experienced literal highs and lows during his time in Norfolk, and now his next record is to surpass Sandy Kennon (255) to become the highest appearance maker of an overseas player in Canaries history.
6 – Substance over style
There is a debate to be had over the quality of Norwich City’s performances compared to their title-winning season two seasons ago.
Some feel as though City aren’t quite hitting the heights in terms of their displays as they did when they romped the division in 2018/19. This is an effective Canaries side, finding ways of winning games despite a hefty injury list and condensed schedule.
As Daniel Farke expressed so succinctly after relegation, those with a defensive base find it easier to stay up in the first season in the Premier League. Those who have an offensive philosophy, suffer more. Just ask Sheffield United the accuracy of that statement.
Even Leeds United, who were lauded for their revolutionary football under Marcelo Bielsa last season, won 13 of their 28 victories by a single goal. This division is about finding extra gears and City have the quality to play that extra pass that allows them to construct that much-needed extra goal.
It isn’t an absence of quality, it is utilising it more effectively. They can turn it on and off. At present, that is proving enough to win games of football. As long as they keep doing that, conversation about performances can wait.