The unrelenting juggernaut that is the Championship continued again last night, and ended with the Canaries firmly in the driving seat.
The game began with City pressing extremely high up the pitch; three Norwich attackers in the penalty area at one point. Daniel Farke had obviously seen something in his preparation and three times in quick succession, City players nicked the ball from Reading players.
Then Josh Martin pressurized the defence into a sloppy Crossfield ball which Emi Buendia latched onto and drilled home for the first goal – this time without a deflection.
Only a few minutes later, Reading equalized with one of their few meaningful attacks. A deflected cross came to Ejaria who took a swing at it. The ball took a deflection off Olise, wrong-footing Michael McGovern before brushing Semedo’s elbow for the equalizer.
The rest of the half was a curious affair. Norwich largely dominated possession, but much of it was slow and ponderous. There was a vast gap between Christoph Zimmermann and Grant Hanley and little in front of them to provide an outlet.
City seemed to be waiting for Reading to press in order to give them an out ball. Too often the ball was given away with sloppy longer passes. When Norwich did move through the thirds though, they were looking dangerous, particularly on the right.
Max Aarons and Marco Stiepermann produced excellent crosses and Pukki made excellent contact with both, only to see the keeper tip the ball over both times in almost identical fashion.
The main threat from Reading came down their right, Jacob Sorensen being given another working over but generally doing a good job.
Those who accuse Daniel Farke of ‘having no plan B’ will have been disappointed at half-time when Todd Cantwell and Kieran Dowell were brought into the fray. Farke also reshaped the team.
Oliver Skipp dropped deeper to sit in front of and between the two centre-halves while Kenney McLean spent more time on the left helping Sorensen stem the flow. The changes bought an instant improvement.
City were able to work the ball out of defence more easily and there was much more movement up front. Dowell’s first touch was a deft flick to free Aarons on the right, and he continued with what was classy performance.
Likewise Cantwell. He glides around the pitch like a Rolls Royce and looks after the ball so well, while also providing a creative spark and a defensive solidity that young Josh Martin will no doubt be looking to emulate.
The pair combined superbly well with Pukki, resulting in a Dowell shot cannoning off the post. Then came the winner.
A superb first touch from Aarons took him into the box and he skipped around one player before a scything leg made contact and bought him down. In full speed, it was a clear penalty – his pace and the force of the tackle made it look obvious. Slow-motion showed that the contact was minimal – but there was contact.
Pukki. Penalty. Goal number 51.
Reading tried to switch it around, bringing on Sam Baldock in an effort to make Hanley and Zimmermann work harder. He nearly got away once or twice but that was it.
The match ended with a flurry of Reading corners and a fine fingertip save from McGovern. If that is to be his last touch for a while, he certainly kept a good one right until the end.
So, up the Football League we go. And Farke was definitely the King amongst the Royals tonight.