Pride, determination and Pukki’s breakthrough – six things learned from City’s fightback at Wigan
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
As the Championship promotion pressure builds, David Freezer looks at six key issues from Norwich City’s draw at Wigan.
1 – Plenty to be happy about still
Let’s kick-off on a positive note, shall we...
Back in August, if you had offered any City supporter being top of the table with four games remaining, sitting four points clear of second and seven clear of third, they would have snapped your hand off.
Successive draws – for just the second time this season – against lowly opposition may have slowed the momentum of Daniel Farke’s team but the business end of the campaign brings nerves.
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Both Reading in midweek and Wigan on Saturday threw all they had at City as they battled hard against the drop. Both teams deserve credit for the spirit on show and for disrupting a team that have proved too hot to handle for many.
And the disappointment at not being able to make big strides towards promotion in the last week is tempered by Sheffield United drawing at home with Millwall. Win two of the last four and City can’t be caught by the Blades. It could be far, far worse.
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2 – A point at Wigan can be valued
It was emphasised ahead of Sunday’s game that Wigan were good at home and you certainly didn’t sense an atmosphere of relegation panic at the DW Stadium.
Unmoved by the sight of a superb 5,300 Canaries supporters packing out a whole stand and making up a third of the total attendance, the Latics set about City with a bit of confidence.
They may have been a bit fortunate to get a penalty, after the ball bounced off Ben Godfrey’s leg and on to his arm. However, City were also relieved to see Leon Clarke’s shot squirm beyond the far post after Tim Krul’s save and to see an offside flag for a marginal call after the same player had headed in during injury-time.
Paul Cook’s team are unbeaten on their own turf since New Year’s Day now, losing just four of 21 games, with Villa, Bristol City and West Brom among the victims on their own turf.
So perhaps a draw at Wigan should be valued rather than be a cause for concern.
3 – City fans so proud of their team
The 5,300 fans who made the gruelling effort to cheer their team on at the DW Stadium of course travelled in the hope of seeing a win.
There was little sense of disappointment drifting from the green and yellow swathes at full-time after their efforts were only rewarded with a draw though. Not necessarily because a point away at Wigan is a decent result but because they had seen their team give it a good go.
Farke had made a triple change in the 76th minute, after accepting his best-laid plans weren’t working, and the away end relished seeing City go on the offensive as they tried to salvage a point.
Teemu Pukki’s crucial strike sparked roars of encouragement and – other than Clarke’s disallowed header – there was only one team likely to win it.
So those loyal travellers still wanted their moment with the head coach. The trademark Farke arm waving was reward for their efforts – their badge of honour for the phenomenal support.
4 – Men on a mission to impress
Responsible for the mostly positive conclusion to the game were the creative talents of Moritz Leitner and Mario Vrancic.
After a tough day for Todd Cantwell, where the youngster looked short of confidence, the duo came on in the 76th minute with a point to prove. Both played major roles in the first half of the season and were arguably part of the spell when City were playing their best football.
Leitner in particular has looked frustrated on the sidelines but immediately his class was obvious. Both must be close to forcing their way into the starting XI against Sheffield Wednesday now.
Vrancic has seven league goals and seven assists to his name this season, while Leitner was one of the best midfielders in the division before his ankle injury.
While City fans will be disappointed for Cantwell that he has not been able to take his chance, it’s a seriously impressive pair to be able to parachute into a promotion push.
5 – Pukki now the top dog in top tiers
Teemu Pukki has now had the best goal-scoring season in Norwich City’s history in the top two tiers of English football. Just let that sink in for a few seconds.
Of all the fine players who have played for City, the free transfer from Brondby has managed more than all of them in a single season.
We didn’t learn anything new about the Finn when he coolly fired home the crucial equaliser in the 81st minute at Wigan, finding the bottom corner as he has done on so many occasions He’s lethal.
But his 27th league goal moved home clear of the 26 managed by Terry Allcock and Ron Davies in the second tier in the 1960s, with only Percy Varco (29) in 1927-28 and Ralph Hunt (31) in 1955-56 ahead of him, from third tier seasons.
Of course the top-flight seasons of Chris Sutton’s 25 in 1993-94) and Ted McDougall (23 in 1975-76) were special but the impact Pukki has made during his first season has been quite phenomenal.
6 – An epic Easter is looming
It could be quite a Easter weekend in store for all connected with the Canaries, starting on Friday.
The drama is set to begin on Friday when Sheffield United host Nottingham Forest at 12,30pm, when all City fans will be hoping Martin O’Neill can do his old club a big favour. Forest’s play-off hopes are all but over but if they can beat the Blades it would mean victory for Norwich over Sheffield Wednesday at Carrow Road in the evening would seal promotion.
In between is Leeds hosting Wigan at 5.30pm, looking to keep the pressure on the leaders but with the Latics still desperately in need of points. It seems at this point it’s mostly about who can deal with the nerves and pressure, but the Canaries have points in the bank.
Should Friday not settle things, Easter Monday takes Norwich to Stoke, Sheffield United to Hull and Leeds to Brentford in the late kick-off.
Whatever the Blades do, City know beating the Owls on Friday is their key game.