David Freezer: Marco's marker, united spirit and Pukki power – Six things learned from City's victory over Boro
After a morale-boosting win, David Freezer looks at six lessons learned from Norwich City’s 1-0 Championship victory over promotion hopefuls Middlesbrough.
1 – Volume reflected united spirit
Carrow Road has too often been a nervy, quiet stadium during Daniel Farke’s reign – but not on Saturday.
Beating Boro will mean little if it’s not followed up by consistent performances and a steady return of points, yet this victory felt like the shot in the arm all connected to the Canaries had needed.
Having survived some early pressure from set-pieces the familiar pattern of a Tony Pulis side’s approach at Carrow Road was set and City fans knew a tough afternoon had started.
Yet Farke’s players relaxed into the game as their passes sharpened and confidence grew, realising they could cause the joint leaders problems. By the time Teemu Pukki poked home the goal the whole stadium was behind a spirited, hard-working display which had deserved the lead.
Tim Krul and Christoph Zimmermann both whipped up the crowd and the volume increased as the three points came within reach. Long may that continue.
2 – Marco has put down a marker
The curious case of Marco Stiepermann’s City career turned to a fresh page as the German put in comfortably his best midfield display since joining last summer.
The 27-year-old former Germany U20 international has spent too long on the fringes, with his versatility counting against him. Yet this is a player City forked out a reported £1m for after Farke’s arrival, only to soon be needed at left-back.
His most productive spell in the German second tier, with Cottbus, was mostly spent as a support striker or on the wing – but this was the first time we’ve seen him shine in an attacking role.
His size and tenacity make him a solid asset, protecting the ball and allowing City to control possession higher up the pitch, giving Mo Leitner some added space to work in.
The balance worked and it was Stiepermann’s pass which freed Max Aarons ahead of the goal. With his hernia injury seemingly now in the past, now we can start to see what Marco can do.
3 – Tim was too Krul for Boro
As much as the unexpected victory could prove a turning point for City, a second clean sheet of the season for Tim Krul could be just as important.
The Dutchman has clearly been searching for form and fitness after his return to regular action when dropping down to the Championship with the Canaries. His first shut-out came during the 2-0 win over Alex Neil’s scrappy Preston.
Keeping out promotion hopefuls Boro was a different deal though.
Denying Jonny Howson at his near post was the big moment of the first half and the 30-year-old’s big right boot denied a powerful Martin Braithwaite effort soon after the hosts had claimed the lead.
A bit of grappling with Aden Flint in the latter stages and plenty of aerial work saw the big character we used to see at Newcastle starting to shine through, pumping up the crowd after Timm Klose survived his bizarre red card drama.
4 – Welcome success for Farke
The demeanour of head coach Daniel Farke was really impressive after this vital victory.
Inside the German’s head a small party must have been kicking off, following one of the most satisfying Carrow Road wins of his reign.
Outwardly though Farke kept his cool and projected the same calm manner which has sometimes frustrated fans after defeats.
The game-plan worked, with Pukki playing ahead of Jordan Rhodes as the striker paying off, avoiding aerial battles with Pulis’s team of giants. Stiepermann as an attacking midfielder, Leitner slightly deeper, it all clicked for Farke and sharp passing mixed with clear desire ensured this was a good day – with 62pc of possession, 84pc pass success and six of 16 shots on target.
Despite the worries, City have now won three of their last five, including the cup win at Cardiff. The Leeds loss sparked concerns but the Boro win has laid a launch pad towards better things.
5 – Zimbo’s big chance to shine
There were more than a few uncomfortable moments for Christoph Zimmermann as he stepped into the boots of captain Grant Hanley. The towering defender left the pitch with his head held high though, after playing his part in a fine clean sheet.
On three occasions the German’s touch let him down in the first half, with his frustration obvious after over-hitting one pass towards Leitner straight out of play.
The 25-year-old has the trust of his head coach and his likeable personality has bought him patience at times among Canaries fans, but with Hanley potentially out for around 10 matches, this is Zimmermann’s big chance to prove himself in England.
That relationship with the Carrow Road faithful was shown again when, like Krul, Zimmermann was urging the crowd to lift the players in the closing stages.
It was one of those days when things clicked on and off the pitch. Now this group of players have to believe they can succeed.
6 – Pukki is proving a real steal
And finally, you just can’t keep Teemu Pukki out of the headlines at the moment – in Finland or England.
When the forward was signed this summer, there wasn’t a huge amount of excitement about a player who struggled to make an impact at Celtic in the past.
Four goals in his first five games at Carrow Road is making the 28-year-old a firm favourite though. While his style may be unfussy and tenacious, his ability deserves to be acknowledged.
His sixth goal of the season – from 10 games for club and country – may have come from a deflected toe poke but the classy touch to control the loose ball in the box is what made the moment.
Having also been top scorer during pre-season, with three goals, the free signing from Brondby could well be emerging as Farke’s main man, with his style fitting nicely with the passing ability of City’s midfield. With six games coming up in quick succession though, rotation is sure to be needed.