Norwich City 1 Middlesbrough 0 – In-form Pukki the hero to earn superb victory
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City have breathed fresh life into their season with an unexpected 1-0 victory over high-flying Middlesbrough, thanks to a fourth goal of the season from summer signing Teemu Pukki.
The Finland international poked home in the 58th minute to reward a really positive performance from the Canaries and inflict a first defeat of the season on the visitors.
City head coach Daniel Farke made two changes to his starting XI, bringing Christoph Zimmermann into the centre of defence of injured skipper Grant Hanley.
He also dropped striker Jordan Rhodes to the bench and pushed Pukki further forward – after two goals during the international break – with Marco Stiepermann coming in to midfield.
After surviving some early pressure from set-pieces the hosts grew into the game, with Moritz Leitner threading Pukkin into the right channel but the Finn's shot was deflected to safety.
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Onel Hernandez – announced as player of the month ahead of kick-off – fired a yard wide of the near post after bright play on the left after 12 minutes and Alex Tettey stung Darren Randolph's gloves with a fine volley from the edge of the box in the 23rd minute.
The big chance of the first half forced Canaries keeper Tim Krul into action, with Britt Assombalonga beating Timm Klose and Leitner's vital block falling kindly for former City midfielder Howson, only for the Dutchman to beat the shot away at his near post.
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Krul was again needed from the resulting corner, as Stewart Downing's set-piece swerved in mid-air and forced City's number one to punch clear.
Otherwise it was a closely-fought contest, with Stiepermann also testing Randolph from 25 yards in the 40th minute but not finding the required power, with the home crowd encouraged by some brighter passing.
City continued to grow into the game and Tettey tested Randolph with a powerful low shot 11 minutes into the second half, before in-form man Pukki scored his third goal in three games for club and country.
A slick counter down the right saw Max Aarons poke the goal towards the penalty spot, where the Finn was waiting to poke a low shot into the bottom-left corner and spark the Barclay into life in the 58th minute.
Krul again made a vital save in the 66th minute, sticking out his right boot to deny a shot from substitute Martin Braithwaite.
Hernandez again forced Randolph into a save at the other end soon after, failing to find the power he needed.
In the aftermath of the goal Timm Klose had been booked for bringing down Braithwaite and there was huge confusion in the 79th minute when he was seemingly shown a second yellow and sent off – only for an offside flag to save him.
The visitors kept pumping balls long but Krul was in no mood to be beaten, with Hernandez continuing to keep Boro busy and Farke's team held out for a hugely important victory.
The Canaries are back in action on Wednesday, when they travel to Reading for their next Championship fixture (8pm).
Norwich: Krul; Aarons, Zimmermann, Klose, Lewis; Tettey (C), Leitner; Buendia (Vrancic 75), Stiepermann (Trybull 77), Hernandez; Pukki (Rhodes 84). Unused subs: McGovern (GK), Marshall, Godfrey, Cantwell
Booked: Stiepermann (foul on Howson, 62), Klose (58, foul on Braithwaite), Leitner (time-wasting, 88)
Goals: Pukki (58)
Boro: Randolph; Flint, Fry (Braithwaite 58), Ayala; Shotton, Clayton (Hugill 70), Besic (Saville 53), Friend (C); Howson, Downing; Assombalonga. Unused subs: Konstantopoulos (GK), McQueen, Batth, McNair
Booked: Clayton (foul on Leitner, 42)
Referee: Andy Davies (Hampshire)