Norwich City 3-1 Birmingham City Six Things: Farke’s fledglings fire

Mario Vrancic scores Norwich’s second – bbc.co.uk

Norwich City underlined their promotion credentials with a comfortable 3-1 victory over Birmingham City, in which all the goals came in the first 25 minutes. Here’s our Six Things from the game.

Best and worst of Jota

Garry Monk was keen to maintain the same personnel and high-octane 4-2-2-2 system that has worked well for him thus far and, early on, we saw the pros and cons of Birmingham’s setup.

Jota has never been particularly diligent in terms of tracking back and his reluctance to do so was a factor behind Norwich’s opener, when the creative Emi Buendia, the vibrant Onel Hernandez and the overlapping Jamal Lewis were given space to combine down the left channel, with the latter setting up Teemu Pukki to fire home, after beating Harlee Dean to the near-post.

Jota’s creative qualities cannot be doubted and, after Blues had responded swiftly to the opener, the Spaniard combined with Jacques Maghoma before picking out a clever reverse pass to find Che Adams, who finished with the confidence of a man bagging his 14th goal of the campaign; although Tim Krul might feel he should not have left as much space inside his near-post.

Buendia brilliance

Garry Monk’s adventurous strategy could have paid off, given Norwich’s injury list, but it transpired that the absence of Timm Klose and Alex Tettey was not as costly as expected. Christoph Zimmermann showed bravery and fine leadership qualities next to the impressive Ben Godfrey at centre-back, while Trybull was just as good as Tettey often is, even perhaps offering slightly more mobility in the middle third.

Their performances allowed Mario Vrancic to link play with crisp forward passes; it was the Bosnian who, from distance, placed the ball into the far corner for Norwich’s second goal, even if Lee Camp might have moved his feet quicker when he shaped to shoot.

Emi Buendia had laid the ball off for the opener and, just three minutes later, the Argentine’s corner found the middle of the penalty area, from which Trybull escaped Gary Gardner’s attentions to head home. Buendia went off later in the first half through injury, but his excellence in possession, his movement off it and his aggressive protection of Lewis were crucial to the victory, which had effectively been wrapped up in the first half.

Norwich’s control

Daniel Farke’s side had found themselves in dramatic encounters in recent weeks, so what was most impressive about their performance was the way they managed proceedings.

They found fewer spaces in behind Birmingham’s midfield in the second half, gently teasing their opponents out rather than committing to the give-and-goes with the same regularity that they had earlier in the contest.

The intelligent Teemu Pukki and bold runner Marco Stiepermann though still had chances to re-emphasize the fluency of their attack; Norwich’s ‘centre-forward’  dropped deeper to feed the onrushing Stiepermann, who could not quite find the target.

Will Adams stay?

Blues best performer on the night was Che Adams who, as well as his goal, continued to hassle and harry throughout a frustrating evening.

His attempts to close down might have drawn more success against less technically proficient opposition and he was the one looking to get shots away, with one effort from outside the box proving Krul’s biggest second half test.

With Lukasz Jutkiewicz struggling to replicate his October and November purple patch, Adams is crucial for Blues.

If he left, it is possible that Isaac Vassell, a bright, late substitute at Carrow Road, might replicate some of the 22-year-old’s main qualities – pace, power and movement – but whether, after 15 months on the sidelines, he could offer the same goalscoring nous is unclear.

Given Birmingham’s off-field circumstances, there is likely to be widespread interest in Adams and it may be that Monk will need to plan for life without him.

Uncharacteristic Blues, or new level of opponents?

The Blues boss felt his side were ‘uncharacteristically’ off their game and lacked defensive discipline; there were one or two issues in this regard, but it might not have been the fundamental reason why his team were defeated.

This season, Birmingham have never been particularly strong in the defensive third – the main reason they only conceded 30 in 27 up until this match was because they pressed coherently into the opposing half.

Against most Championship teams, their work without the ball has been acceptable, because their opponents have either cleared the ball under pressure or only picked the safe passes.

Norwich though are a completely different animal because they are never fazed by the press and have that capacity to, very quickly, find their way in behind through a standard of passing and movement which is unique at this level.

It was not so much a case of Birmingham playing especially differently to how they usually do, but more that their opponents found the gaps in their structure that no other team had.

Boost for Norwich ahead of crunch clashes

At a time when Norwich had been enduring what could be described as a wobble, with some fans worried about the recent defensive struggles caused by injuries, it was vital that they responded with a firm statement of intent.

Norwich looked far more like the well-balanced and superbly-coached side we have marvelled at this season and the victory puts them three points clear of third-placed Sheffield United, having played one game more.

With next week’s hosting of the Blades followed by a trip to Elland Road, then the small matter of an East Anglian Derby, this is a crucial period for the Canaries.

Such a controlled display reduces the pressure on the return of Klose, Tettey and Leitner – and sets them up to approach those three crunch clashes with great confidence.