Norwich City 3 Birmingham City 1: Canaries turn up the heat on Championship rivals with Blues' cruise
Norwich City surged back into second in the Championship with a 3-1 win over Birmingham City on Friday at Carrow Road.
Teemu Pukki struck early only for Che Adams to cancel out the Finn’s 17th of the season within seconds. But Mario Vrancic and Tom Trybull struck within three minutes before the half-hour mark to set up a rare comfortable second half watch at Carrow Road for the home fans.
City climbed above Sheffield United with the win and go a point behind leaders Leeds ahead of the rest of the weekend’s league action.
Trybull got the nod in place of the injured Alex Tettey, with fit-again fellow midfielder Marco Stiepermann straight back into the home line up for Todd Cantwell.
Tim Krul got his angles right to thwart Maikel Kieftenbeld in the early sparring, after his deflected cross clipped Christoph Zimmermann following Max Aarons’ initial stumble on the half way line.
Birmingham’s attacking threat was every bit as direct as Daniel Farke had forecast. Lukas Jutkiewicz offered a willing aerial target for the Blues’ centre backs, with Adams looking to profit from any knockdowns.
The Canaries were warming to the task on a bitterly cold night when Jamal Lewis darted infield to clip a ball arrowing towards Stiepermann’s left foot until Kristian Pedersen sensed the danger to intervene.
Pukki dragged a low shot wide seconds later but the intent from Farke’s promotion hopefuls was to be admired.
Birmingham were providing far too much encouragement and paid the price in the 13th minute when Emi Buendia invited Lewis forward again and his whipped near post cross was met by a sumptuously-timed near post run from Pukki.
Barely had the cheers subsided when the Blues were level. Jota afforded too much room to cut inside and thread a pass for the predatory Adams who smashed a strike past Krul at his near post after evading Ben Godfrey.
But one thing is not in doubt with Farke’s collective this season. When they face adversity they respond in kind. Before there was time to question whether another dollop of experience is required stationed in front of Krul in the imposing shape of Grant Hanley, you were reminded of the tantalising precociousness of youth.
Buendia triggered a flowing counter with a gorgeous reverse ball to Aarons who cut it back inside for Vrancic to drill a swerving low shot from 25 yards beyond the flailing dive of Lee Camp.
This time the Canaries sought extra insurance. Just three minutes later Trybull rose unmarked to guide Buendia’s corner past Camp from barely five yards.
The Argentine maestro was simply a joy to watch in the immediate aftermath. There was one hooked ball over his shoulder for Pukki, but Camp was alive to the danger. Then another sweetly hit first time pass reversed into Stiepermann’s path.
But the looming presence of Cantwell getting ready on the sidelines signalled the premature end of Buendia’s night before the interval. There was sad trudge towards his head coach before an embrace as the home fans rose to acclaim the injured midfielder. City supporters will hope for good injury news in the days ahead such is the influence Buendia exerts on this side for one so young.
Stiepermann appeared to accept his creative mantle with a clever pass for Hernandez, who weakly dragged his shot into the near post.
Jota remained the danger for the Blues. Trybull and Vrancic afforded him far too much room again in the 43rd minute but Krul shovelled his long range shot behind.
Farke clearly sent his side out with the same instructions on the evidence of the first attacking foray on the restart. Hernandez’s outrageous flick eventually ended with Vrancic curling a right footed effort from 16 yards.
Hernandez took the wrong option in the 51st minute when Stiepermann’s pass pierced the Blues’ backline, chopping back inside to traffic.
Norwich were trying to control the tempo with prolonged bouts of possession but Godfrey’s slip sparked an uncomfortable few moments with Farke’s men guilty of sloppiness.
Cantwell tried to inject more thrust with a curling effort clawed away by Camp. Pukki’s pivot freed Stiepermann in the 68th minute but the German was desperate to get the ball onto his favoured left and Harlee Dean shut the door.
But after recent Carrow Road carnage this was a relatively serene passage to the final whistle with Jordan Rhodes and Kenny McLean both introduced to protect a lead instead of a salvage mission at West Brom.
• Norwich City: Krul, Aarons, Zimmermann, Godfrey, Lewis, Trybull, Vrancic, Buendia (Cantwell 39), Stiepermann, Hernandez (McLean 90), Pukki (Rhodes 85). Subs (not used): McGovern (GK), Passlack, Hanley, Srbeny.
• Goals: Pukki (13), Vrancic (22), Trybull (25)
• Birmingham City: Camp, Colin, Dean, Morrison, Pedersen, Jota (Mahoney 71), G Gardner, Kieftenbeld (C Gardner 56), Maghoma, Adams, Jutkiewicz (Vassell 61). Subs (not used): Trueman (GK), Solomon-Otabor, Dacres-Cogley, Harding.
• Bookings: Kieftenbeld (foul on Buendia, 27); Pedersen (foul on Hernandez, 29); C Gardner (foul on Aarons, 80); Morrison (foul on Rhodes, 87)
• Goal: Adams (14)
• Time added on: 2 minutes / 3 minutes
• Referee: Tim Robinson (West Sussex)
• Attendance: 25,932