Norwich 1 – 0 Boro

Norwich City Middlesbrough
Pukki 58′
On target
On target

Pukki strike finishes sick Boro

Redcar Red reports on the first defeat of the season…

After the desert that is International boredom when many of us probably found out the scores accidentally rather than avidly (and/or expensively) watching, normal service was resumed for Boro with a trip to Carrow Road. Daniel Farke’s glittery appointment excitement down in East Anglia now seems a long time ago but not as long as that heart breaking day at Wembley for Boro fans so this one still has a bit of meaning from that fateful evening when Paddy was nobbled right up to despondently walking away from the arch.

Had it not been for fellow countryman and ex Augsburg midfielder Moritz Leitner’s late equaliser in the Tractor Derby there was a good chance that Mr Farke may not have been sat in the Home dug out at all this afternoon. Down in 17th place before with a solitary victory and two draws their only source of points the visit of unbeaten Boro did not fill the Canary fans with much reason to sing. The departure of James Maddison seems to have had a major impact on the club way beyond what could reasonably be expected.

Jordan Rhodes is now spearheading their hopes of a turnaround both for the sake of Delia’s boys and his own career which has nosedived after his Boro sojourn. Things were so desperate that the locals had been pushing for Nelson Oliviera to be played up front alongside Rhodes and to heal the supposed rift between the Portuguese Striker and his Manager. With a porous Midfield this season it was difficult for anyone to bet on anything other than a convincing away win with the Yellow shirts colour coordinated with their yellow bellied defending. News that Grant Hanley was out for six weeks further raised concerns that they would be lucky to get anything out of today’s encounter.

Elsewhere in their side midfielder Mario Vrancic was doubtful as was defender Ivo Pinto with Kenny McLean and Finnish danger man Teemu Pukki hadn’t been training in the last 48 hours probably due to his International exertions rather than a niggle or knock. TP on the other hand only had Rudy injured long term but other than that was spoilt by a relative array of riches in comparison to Daniel Farke.

The Norwich team news saw Zimmerman come in for Hanley with Rhodes dropped to the bench in favour of Stiepermann coming into the midfield. Vrancic was deemed fit enough to make the bench, Pukki was up front with Onel Hernandez and Emi Buendia the main support for the lone striker. TP went with same again which wasn’t a surprise and had a bench of Dimi, McQueen, Batth, McNair, Saville, Braithwaite and Hugill. That Boro bench would arguably walk into most starting elevens this afternoon.

Boro lined up in their Dark Blue away kit as Red must have seemingly clashed with the Carnaries Yellow on a colour spectrum somewhere. George Friend saw most of the early few minutes as we condensed the Norwich team back into their own half. A throw in from Shotton was launched with a low trajectory and caused the Norwich defence to clear the ball out for a Corner to Boro. Pukki had a chance from the ensuing corner, breaking, but the danger was attended to by Shotton and the cross come shot went harmlessly out for a goal kick. Best chance in the opening few minutes came to Flint with a poor shot as Boro comfortably dominated proceedings in the opening ten minutes but lacked finesse in the Norwich goalmouth.

Norwich steadied things a little but their desire to play out slowly from the back was vexing some of the home fans as Assombalonga just missed an opportunity that was set up via a ball fired in from Shotton. A bit of Norwich pressure then had Boro having to stand firm for a few minutes and livened up the somewhat despondent up until that point home fans which was ended by Clayts coming off worse in a 50/50 challenge and the game brought to a halt for treatment to the Boro hard man.

Accompanied by a chorus of boos Clayts was able to re-enter the fray after a few sprays and rubbing of the affected area just as Norwich captain and play off survivor Tettey launched a speculative half volley at Randolph. The game was becoming scrappy and it probably suited Norwich better than Boro as we had now lost the early momentum with twenty five minutes gone. A few balls into the Boro box eventually came to nothing as Norwich were gaining confidence but Boro’s backline stood firm. Our “problem” at this stage of the game was that Britt was very isolated and struggled to get any support from midfield.

As Fry performed another Beckanbauer run beating several Norwich players in the process he eventually ran it too far losing possession and was fortunate for Flint to step in and spare his blushes. As solid as we looked at the back we didn’t look to be able to convert our defensive strength into any serious attacking moves. Perhaps recognising this, Braithwaite was sent to warm up by TP. In response to this Britt controlled the ball in the Norwich half, staying onside and setting up Howson whose shot went out for a corner which Tim Krul cleared in a less than convincing manner.

A coming together involving Zimmerman and Assombalonga incensed the home support and Daniel Farke who was screaming for a card for the Boro striker who was performing defensive duties. As Canary confidence was growing Tettey had another effort which went well over the bar. If Boro weren’t careful it was looking like our failure to put serious pressure on the patched up Yellow shirted backline could come back to haunt us. As solid as we were defensively we were not creative or inventive enough in the opposition half despite a throw in collected by Besic who turned inside but his shot was woeful as he had plenty of power but zero precision.

With five minutes to half time Clayton cleaned out Leitner picking up the game’s first yellow card and his third of the season. Norwich looked vulnerable at the back but as the half drew to a conclusion and added time it was Norwich who were starting to enjoy more efforts on goal albeit mostly high and wide. Boro were happy to absorb the best that Norwich had to throw at them but it was looking like unless we earned a set piece opportunity it was unlikely we would be troubling ex Toon keeper Krul anytime soon. The whistle went for half time in what started very positively for Boro but had ended in a somewhat underwhelming fashion despite drawing away from home and keeping a clean sheet we could and should have put Krul under more pressure.

The Second half commenced with no changes from either Manager. Pukki starting proceedings as the ball was passed back Karanka style to their Keeper Krul. There didn’t appear to be any positional changes from the managers so it was pretty much as you were surprisingly. My guess is that Farke thought a home draw against Boro was a sensible outcome and TP was waiting for a set piece to nick it. A quick clear out from Randolph to Britt saw a hand ball by Zimmerman but Britt was adjudged to have fouled the stand in defender and the chance ended abruptly by the whistle of Ref Andy Davies.

Howson was needed to clear his lines conceding a throw in as Norwich had started looking the livelier. Boro were remaining solid or perhaps static was a better description with the five at the back being impenetrable the Canaries were running around but getting nowhere. TP made a strange substitution with Saville on for Besic in an effort presumably to add some midfield support for the frustrated and forlorn looking Britt. The Midfield wasn’t at its best generally but perhaps Pulis thought he could improve his side’s attempts on goal ratio more with Saville rather than Besic who after his International exertions hadn’t particularly influenced the game. In terms of influence there were not many Boro players that had influenced the game or at least certainly not in a positive manner.

Tettey who had been lively had another effort as he was looking the only Norwich player likely to break the deadlock. Assombalonga then went down in the Norwich box for a weak penalty claim from which Norwich quickly went down the other end, passed the ball around and as warned by Jarkko on here Pukki prodded the ball into the net. The inevitability of it had been building and the lack of a switch at half time just invited it. Bringing on Saville for Besic didn’t alter anything when something more creative was required.

The goal forced another much needed Boro change and Braithwaite entered the fray at the expense of Dael Fry as TP switched to a back four. An immediate free kick from Downing didn’t get over the wall and was cleared as the home fans had now found their voices sensing blood. A goal behind after failing to apply any pressure had now forced Boro to abandon their solid defensive plan as things heated up and Clayts clattered again by Stiepermann who belatedly collected a yellow card after escaping one for an earlier challenge. Ryan Shotton uncharacteristically slipped and allowed Hernandez in as attention levels were dipping and Boro now focussed on trying to get back in the game.

The contest now opened up with Downing, Saville, Howson and Brathwaite all trying to create something with Norwich looking dangerous and their confidence levels growing. It was frustrating to find ourselves chasing the game when we had looked so resolute for the bulk of the match but failed to capitalise by not offering any attacking threat. Clayton was now struggling from his many challenges and Shotton had to come to our rescue blocking another Norwich attempt. Hugill was being readied and introduced for Clayton who was clearly struggling as TP went with what looked like a front three. The new set up was unsure amongst the Boro Players as to who was supposed to be playing where and it showed for the next few minutes?

Norwich where clearly seeking to take advantage of this Boro confusion and continued attacking as we reshaped ourselves in what looked like a 433 of sorts. A free kick from Downing just over the half way line was poorly delivered and the ball ended up back with Randolph. A shot from Hernandez driving into the 18 yard box was fortunately weakly hit at Randolph. Hugill then was teed up by Downing who couldn’t make his header count. Buendia then went off for Vrancic as Farke made a double change to hold in to what his side had earned with a quarter of an hour remaining, the second switch saw Stiepermann off and Tom Trybull on.

Assombalonga broke after being set up by a Hugill flick on and was subsequently fouled by Klose who was then sent off for a second yellow. The Lineman intervened presumably for an offside decision and the second booking revoked by the Ref and Norwich back to eleven players. With ten minutes remaining Boro were now applying belated pressure and a throw in saw Shotton launch a trade mark throw at Flint and Ayala which was knocked out for a Corner to Boro. Downing then floated the ball in to Ayala who knocked it back to Hugill but the ball was too high and it came to nothing.

Time was desperately running out as Jordan Rhodes was readied by Farke to offer a fresh outlet for the tiring Teemu Pukki. The offside flag came to the rescue again for Norwich as Downing sent another ball into the Canaries box. Leitner then indulged in some theatrics running the clock down claiming that Assombalonga had hit him in the face with five minutes remaining. Boro were scrappy and looking disjointed, running out of ideas almost as fast as time. Our build up play continually looked laboured and unconvincing; Norwich meanwhile battled and scrapped to hold on to what they had earned. We now had all the right players on the pitch but it just wasn’t clicking and nearly suffered more when sub Trybull nearly put the game to the sword on the 90th minute.

The time wasting techniques from the home side was reflected in the 6 minutes of added time much to the anger of Farke. A weak Ayala effort was ineffective summing up our afternoon as we were now running out of time. To compound things the Spaniard nearly set up Rhodes after a poor pass which was read thankfully by Downing but the ensuing chaos then saw Ayala give away a free kick on the edge of the “D”. Vrancic’s effort hit the Boro wall and with Braithwaite quickly reacting he fed Assombalonga who was brought down and a ridiculously quickly taken free kick came to nothing as Flint was trying to get up field. A Hugill hand ball was the end of Boro’s attempts for the day which overall were very poor all afternoon as we went down to our first defeat of the season.

A solid defensive display with no attacking threat gave way to a poorly conceded goal and then a series of substitutions and shuffles in a desperate attempt to rescue something in a very dysfunctional second half display from Boro. Overall it was unrecognisable from the Boro prior to the International break and the “Invincibles” certainly looked distinctly average today.

The annoying factor was that we done it to ourselves in failing to pressure one of the weakest defences in the Championship. Playing like that away to Leeds made sense but today was an opportunity totally and utterly spurned through a lack of endeavour. More creativity in the first half could have given this fixture an entirely different complexion from a Boro perspective and hopefully lessons will be learned from that, uninspiring summed it up. In terms of a MOM the only Player I could give it to was Clayton who crunched into tackles and literally gave his all for the cause before being forced off.

The result saw us slip to fourth place now and a very disappointing performance in front of the travelling army. The experience on the bench looked very impressive at three o’clock but when we went behind the lack of raw energy from the likes of Wing and Tavernier that we witnessed at the Den was sorely miss. The positive is that we can quickly put things right midweek.

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