Norwich City turned over Middlesbrough in much better style than the 1-0 score line might suggest on Saturday afternoon.
FULL-TIME | Norwich City 1-0 Middlesbrough
— Norwich City FC (@NorwichCityFC) September 15, 2018
Prior to kick off, I wrote that we would be underdogs in this game and that this was something we’d often have to get used to this season. Other than the first 15-20 minutes, when ‘Boro were on top, you’d never have known it though.
Christoph Zimmermann was chosen as Grant Hanley’s replacement and it was like he had never been away. He and Timm Klose rarely missed a beat all game as they put everything in the way to block shots, win headers and generally stand up to Tony Pulis’ giants.
Middlesbrough are physically a big team. Aden Flint is a monster of a man and not often are you going to see him beaten in the air. Ryan Shotton is still a pretty decent defender, putting his huge hammer of a throw-in to one side, and Britt Assombalonga is quick and as strong as an Ox.
Norwich though, managed to deal with all of it, including the returning Jonny Howson and Daniel Ayala.
I have to give some credit to Daniel Farke for the way he set the side up here. He dropped Jordan Rhodes to the bench and brought Marco Stiepermann into central midfield. Marco barely put a foot wrong all day. His height was useful when defending from the Giants’ aerial assaults and he played the ball as well as anyone.
Teemu Pukki is in a rich vein of form at the moment, with four goals now for City in eight games and he grabbed another two for his country last week. His movement, pace and harrying abilities saw him put in a shift up top and just before the hour mark, he fired a low shot in off Ryan Shotton and into Darren Randolph’s goal.
The chance came from the right and Max Aarons getting in behind the defence. Both our young full-backs were superb. I don’t think that either of them could’ve played much better than they did here.
It’s worth remembering that this was only Max’s second ever Championship game and he will have ups and downs along the way. He will make mistakes sometimes as he learns on the job but he should have little trouble getting the fans’ support with these sorts of displays, likewise for Jamal too.
Emi Buendia also showed flashes of brilliance and a liking for a tackle too. There’s a lot more to come from him but this was very promising
Captain, Alex Tettey was at his athletic, destructive best and won the sponsors’ man of the match award and I wouldn’t argue with their call. He also had more shots on goal than anyone else and completed a cracking overhead kick clearance in the second half that had the crowd cheering in approval.
Talking of the crowd, the atmosphere was much better and it was a lot noisier than it has been of late but this was clearly linked to what we were watching on the pitch. Take note Mr Webber, what the team does on the pitch triggers a reaction in the stands and the players and crowd then feed off each other.
Onel Hernandez was a constant threat to the ‘Boro defence but to be fair to him, Ryan Shotton handled Onel quite well. That’s not to say that Onel didn’t have the beating of him, because he often did, I’m just giving Shotton some credit.
Nobody had a bad game but Moritz Leitner had an especially good one. Always on the move and as ever, wanting the ball. He never hides from it and continued to show his growing physical side in a running battle with Adam Clayton, a player that I struggle to like at the best of times.
Tony Pulis moaned afterwards that Leitner had gone over the ball and caused a gash on Clayton’s shin in the first half and that the ref had done nothing about it. Shame.
With regard to ‘Boro, they had just two shots on target. Ex-Canary, Jonny Howson tested Tim Krul (but not too much) and second half substitute, Martin Braithwaite hit a decent shot, albeit from a tight angle, that Krul had covered. Good old Jonny H applauded the City faithful at the end, as has become his custom. He’s still not been on the winning side since he left though, has he?
Anyway the man in the middle, James Linington had a rather bizarre game. He let plenty of things go, not booking players on both sides when by the letter of the law they should’ve seen yellow and then sending off Timm Klose with 20 minutes or so to go, except he didn’t.
Basically, the ref produced a second yellow card of the game for Timm after he pulled Assombalonga down as the last man. Then he flashed a red card and we were all gutted. Suddenly though, the ref was called over by his linesman and it seems that Assombalonga was offside. The red card was immediately rescinded and Timm stayed on.
I’ve never seen a referee change their mind on a red card before at Carrow Road.
The big question now though, is how will Norwich react from here going forward?
If City are to do anything in terms of a top-six challenge this season, then moments and wins like this need to be followed by other equally positive results. Next up are Reading and QPR away in the league and then Wigan at home with Wycombe in the EFL Cup in between.
I don’t think I’m being greedy when I say that we need to be getting 7 points from those three league games. We should be getting 7 points and after today, we clearly have the ability to win tough games. This time last year, City went on five-game unbeaten run and fingers crossed, we can do it again.
One swallow does not a summer make but it’s a start.