Paddy's Pointers: Five observations from the Canaries' 3-1 Championship win against Birmingham
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Group Football Editor Paddy Davitt delivers his Birmingham verdict after Norwich City's 3-1 Championship win.
1. Slamming the door
Norwich’s Championship rivals must have been hoping Daniel Farke’s squad slipped out of the smooth groove they had found since beating Stoke. Bad news. They did at St Andrew’s and it was still another three points closer the finish line. Plus a 10-point chasm ahead of all their main rivals trying to respond on Wednesday.
Perhaps Birmingham deserve more credit. The Blues were excellent in their tactical approach, in the energy of their press, and the discomfort that caused Norwich and Farke for that matter.
It has been a long time since the Canaries looked so out of kilter out of possession, typified by the manner of Birmingham’s first half equaliser.
But the hallmark of this title push would appear to be Norwich’s capacity to find a way.
Birmingham may feel a burning sense of injustice at the way Emi Buendia’s deflected shot dropped for Teemu Pukki to double his personal tally – after a first half penalty was saved – but how often does the Finn’s gamble pay off?
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Farke only wants to talk about points, not league placings at this stage. However, if Norwich can keep winning when they fall below their own exacting standards, that shaft of light for the rest is narrowing by the week.
2. Back to his best?
Farke sparked a great debate with his post-match comments on Pukki’s return to the goal trail after his Rotherham match-winner.
Few were doubting his words with a majestic opening goal back at St Andrew’s for the second time in a week.
The pass from Kenny McLean left him with plenty to do on the left hand edge of the Birmingham box but the power and the timing of his sweeping finish across a stunned Neil Etheridge into the far corner was majestic.
Alas, Etheridge exacted a modicum of revenge when they duelled again from the penalty spot later in the first half.
The Blues’ keeper stood his ground and in the end had a regulation stop with his legs after Pukki had opted for placement rather than power down the middle.
But as Farke also rightly pointed out after Pukki’s Millers’ match-winner, that is the life of a striker. His gamble in the second half paid off to chase down Buendia’s deflected shot to sidefoot past Etheridge.
Comparisons with two seasons ago are unfair. This is a more pragmatic Norwich, with the burden of expectation. Pukki is also no longer an unknown commodity. Park that debate and just trust in the Finn to deliver when it matters from here.
3. Bravo Onel
Beyond the headline grabbing antics of Pukki, Onel Hernandez’s introduction for Mario Vrancic injected some much-needed dynamism and attacking threat.
The Cuban’s burst into the Birmingham box and then a composed cut back for Buendia led to Pukki’s and Norwich’s second goal.
His ability to stretch the play and run down the clock were also priceless commodities in the final stages as the Blues’ tired.
This has been a frustrating, injury-hit campaign for Hernandez.
His goals and assists in the Championship title winning campaign two seasons ago marked him out as a serious operator at this level. He may have had to settle for more of a bit-part role thus far. But with his head coach needing game changers, Hernandez delivered with his thrust unsettling the Blues.
Down the stretch, one can see the wide player becoming an increasingly important figure. In tight games, he can provide something of an X-factor.
4. Furious Farke
In an empty stadium, the frustrated voice of Norwich’s head coach pierced the cold air in this part of Birmingham for the majority of that opening period.
Farke was far from impressed with his side’s offering. His delayed return to the dug out after half-time, allied to his tone and body language, suggested he may well have forcibly got his point across.
Norwich certainly looked far more aggressive and more willing to engage Birmingham than a passive opening period.
Farke talked after that mini blip recently how in certain games if he feels he needs to be more vocal from the sidelines he will happily pick up the baton. This was one such night.
But it had the desired effect. His decision to introduce Hernandez paid off as well. Plus Jordan Hugill’s clearing header set fellow substitute Lukas Rupp away to seal this hard-fought win. In Farke’s role, it is about looking for marginal gains. Whether that is his tactical tweaks or simply his man management. The Norwich head coach delivered.
5. From pleasure to pain
Christoph Zimmermann rightly earned praise for the manner he answered a defensive SOS when Ben Gibson woke up with a back issue on Saturday. Zimmermann was unflappable and composed alongside Grant Hanley in that Rotherham clean sheet.
But this was a far more uncomfortable shift prior to the interval. Birmingham pressed cleverly through the middle and launched numerous raids from wide areas. A cheap early booking for a raised foot on Jeremie Bela exposed him to needless pressure.
Then his failure to control Tim Krul’s hot pass led to a turnover that triggered Birmingham’s first half equaliser. He also allowed Scott Hogan to escape before the interval but the Blues’ frontman skied over.
Credit to him, the second half performance was more assured and far more uncomplicated. Zimmermann kicked and headed and let those in front of him higher up the park deal with the other side of the equation.
Zimmermann knows he must take every single opportunity, given how well Gibson and Hanley have performed to this point of the promotion push. But if the Burnley loanee declares himself available for the weekend trip to Wycombe, one suspects Zimmermann may have to bide his time again.