Freezer's Five: Key talking points from Norwich City's dramatic late win at Blackburn
PUBLISHED: 17:05 22 December 2018 | UPDATED: 19:14 22 December 2018
Our Norwich City correspondent David Freezer has delivered his verdict from Ewood Park after yet another victory with a late goal to win 1-0 at Blackburn.
Christmas number one?
Will the Canaries be top of the Championship Christmas tree for the first time since the title winners of 2003? We’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out, when Leeds go to Aston Villa, but they are tonight at the very least.
Daniel Farke’s team held up their end of the bargain and are back on top of the table after yet another late winner from that man Teemu Pukki, keeping them five points clear of West Brom.
It was the Finland international’s 30th goal for club and country in 2018 and his 14th in all competitions for the Canaries this season, again proving poacher supreme.
It had been another reasonably quiet display from the Finn but who cares when he keeps scoring winners – his fifth of the campaign for City.
This winner owed so much to the calm of substitute Mario Vrancic, slipping Onel Hernandez into the left channel and the Cuban winger picked out the Canaries top scorer in his usual home of the six-yard box to turn home the crucial goal.
Oh what fun it is to see Norwich win away
It looked for so long like City would not be able to force the issue at Ewood Park but the Canaries have extended their unbeaten run to 11 matches – and become just the second team to beat Blackburn on their own turf in 2018.
David Raya denied Marco Stiepermann and Ben Godfrey with good saves in either half and Godfrey also saw a goal disallowed in each half, with the high-flying Canaries setting the tempo.
It’s now the longest unbeaten run of a City team since going 13 without a loss at this level under Glenn Roeder in 2007-08 and also extended an unbeaten away record to 10 matches.
After 0-0 draws at Hull and Bristol City the Pukki winner tasted as sweet as the Christmas pudding which awaits, with only a failure to win for Leeds able to make the festivities even sweeter now.
Midfield metronome Moritz Leitner returned to City’s starting XI, having missed three games with a calf injury – but Farke’s plans soon needed a rethink.
Leitner immediately started dictating play and creating from his deep quarterback role but after being caught late by Corey Evans in the 24th minute, with the Rovers midfielder booked, there was a yellow for the German as well after catching Danny Graham with four minutes of the half remaining.
The ex-Dortmund man then limped through to half-time after being caught late and was replaced by Vrancic at the break – with Emi Buendia also having limped off in the first half, being replaced by Onel Hernandez.
Buendia had a bandage around his knee after a poor challenge from Richie Smallwood and Leitner appeared to be having treatment on his left ankle, leaving concerns for Farke ahead of home games against Nottingham Forest and Derby.
Leitner was the only change to the Norwich starting XI though, with Farke sticking with Ben Godfrey in central defence alongside Christoph Zimmermann.
It was a brave call from the Canaries coach, with captain Grant Hanley fit and clearly desperate to return against the club he used to captain and where he made 200 appearances.
Godfrey got the nod for the third game on the bounce, with Timm Klose staying home to focus on getting fit for the Boxing Day clash with Forest at Carrow Road.
The feeling for Hanley – and Jordan Rhodes – was shown by Rovers fans as they warmed up midway through the first half but Godfrey was steady again in the first half.
The 20-year-old was well positioned at the near post to deny a Bradley Dack shot after the Blackburn attacker had wriggled his way past two tackles, and also saw two goals disallowed, both correctly on first inspection.
Godfrey was again reliable in the air, leaving his head coach with a problem to solve during the busy festive schedule, with Klose and Hanley both set to be available – a healthy position to be in at the least.
No Tettey, no party
Alex Tettey kept his starting place in spite of a shaky performance during the previous weekend’s 2-2 draw at Bristol City, being taken off before he picked up a seemingly inevitable second yellow card.
The former Norway international has proved over the course of the campaign just how important he is to this City team though and made his 200th appearance for Norwich.
That milestone moves the 32-year-old clear of John Deehan onto outright 70th place in the club’s all-time appearances list, with the likes of Ken Foggo and Darren Huckerby within reach.
There was an early scare at Ewood Park for Tettey when he was lucky to escape a booking after catching Bradley Dack but in general it was a much calmer performance.
He was also in the right place, at the right time in the 23rd minute, to deny Danny Graham’s shot from inside the City box and deflect the effort just beyond the post.
The second half was vintage Tettey though, with disruptive tackles, vital headers and the defensive energy that has made him such a popular player during his double century.