Freezer's Five: Key talking points from Norwich City's hard-fought 1-0 victory over Wigan
PUBLISHED: 20:25 29 September 2018 | UPDATED: 07:28 01 October 2018
As Norwich City move into the Championship play-off positions with their fourth consecutive league victory, Canaries correspondent David Freezer looks at the key talking points from the 1-0 home win over Wigan.
Mario to the rescue again
After such a frantic and exciting spell of the season for Daniel Farke’s team, it was almost inevitable that a 0-0 draw would bring Carrow Road back down to earth – but this City side know how to find a way to win.
Fine play from Marco Stiepermann in the box won back the ball and Teemu Pukki was hauled back by former Ipswich loanee Callum Connolly to win a penalty, which Mario Vrancic tucked away nicely in the 86th minute to keep the winning streak alive.
Five straight victories in all competitions, for the first time since Alex Neil’s City team went top of the Championship in September 2016, ensured the upturn continued with another deserved victory – just about.
Vrancic also came off the bench to score the winner at Reading last week and was the hero again, sending Christian Walton the wrong way at the River End, to lift City into the play-off places for the first time in almost a year and for only the second time in Farke’s reign.
It’s five straight wins overall and seven unbeaten in all competitions now, very tidy indeed.
Keeping the faith
Farke went with the same starting XI for the third consecutive league game, keeping faith with the line-up which had earned away wins at Reading and QPR.
That would have been four but for Todd Cantwell coming in for the injured Onel Hernandez after the 1-0 home defeat of Middlesbrough immediately after the international break.
However, that decision lead to a rather jaded and sloppy display on the whole, as the stubborn Latics pressured City’s youngsters into mistakes out wide and created frustration at Carrow Road.
Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis in particular ensured difficult afternoons, with the ball seeming like a hot potato at times, with a fourth game in two weeks seemingly testing their mental endurance on the back of international duty for both.
Lewis and Aarons’ afternoon was summed up five minutes after the break when Lewis – fresh from a poor shot well over the bar – headed backwards into his own box and Aarons failed to clear and was caught in possession.
Aarons and Cantwell were taken off in the 65th minute, with Louis Thompson coming on at right-back, showing that it had been a testing afternoon for 18-year-old Aarons.
Rhodes on the bench
The decision to stick with the same starting XI meant Jordan Rhodes had to make do with a place on the bench, despite his midweek hat-trick at Wycombe in the Carabao Cup.
That was understandable given that Teemu Pukki had scored in three successive league wins since being given his first start as the lone striker for his club – five when including his Finland action.
Pukki was thwarted twice by Dunkley in the first half though, once after the defender’s mistake allowed him to tear clean through, only for the ball to get caught up under his feet, allowing the Latics man to deny him as he was pulling the trigger from close range – with the referee waving away strong penalty claims.
It wasn’t until the 75th minute that Rhodes got his chance, coming on for Buendia, with Pukki moving to the left wing.
The striker superbly flicked on a Vrancic pass to set Pukki away on the left in the 83rd minute and played a key part in seeing the game out after Vrancic had scored the crucial penalty but didn’t get any real sights of goal in a frantic finish.
Who knew that the absence of skipper Grant Hanley would be followed by such improved defensive performances?
Rather than a slight on the Scot, who had a severely disrupted pre-season before his quad injury emerged, it’s credit to the understanding between Christoph Zimmermann and Timm Klose.
That partnership played a key role in the nine-game unbeaten run of a year ago and has now kept three in four league games since the international break.
While Zimmermann continues to have a few dodgy moments with his passing, including one horrendous ball forward that was like a kick for touch in rugby, the understanding of the German-speaking duo largely kept Wigan at arm’s length and dealt with their set-piece attempts.
Cantwell first home league game
The emergence of academy product Cantwell continued with the 20-year-old midfielder’s first league start at Carrow Road.
The creative talent did start in the Carabao Cup first round earlier in the season, at home to Stevenage, but has grabbed his chance in the absence of Hernandez.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that the Dereham youngster also made 10 appearances while on loan at Fortuna Sittard during the second half of last season as well though, helping seal promotion to the Dutch top flight.
There were some really positive moments from the youngster, linking particularly well at close quarters with Moritz Leitner as the visitors packed the midfield, but also some stern words from Farke as he allowed right-back Reece James to get goal-side of him on a couple of occasions.
Replaced by Vrancic with 25 minutes remaining, it was another valuable learning experience in the unfamiliar wide left role.