Whatever about his stunning hat-trick for Norwich City on Saturday, Teemu Pukki was a menace off the ball, too, against Newcastle United.
On an afternoon where the Magpies’ work-rate was not up to scratch – just six days after, statistically, being among those Premier League sides who covered the most ground on the opening weekend – the ice-cool Finn showed the visitors how it is done.
All week, Newcastle had worked on Miguel Almiron playing higher up the field, with a focus on making the most of the transition from defence to attack against a leaky Norwich backline.
But, as he looked to get involved in play, Almiron again dropped deep as a link man between midfield and attack, often operating in space 30 or 40 yards away from Joelinton , his strike partner.
On one such counter in the first-half, Almiron picked up the ball outside his own box, ran into space before being closed down by two Norwich players, including Pukki.
With Joelinton the only team-mate ahead of him, in the opposition half, Almiron fizzed a through ball in his direction, which Grant Hanley managed to intercept before the defender then slipped.
Joelinton was the first to reach the ball before taking a touch to take it inside onto his right foot as he bore down on goal. By that stage, Pukki had somehow caught up with play and cleanly dispossessed the Brazilian, playing a one-two off the inside of Hanley’s leg, before coolly carrying the ball away.
The Norwich fans rejoiced- chanting Pukki’s name -but that one passage of play raised questions about Newcastle at both ends of the pitch.
Bruce identified pace and power as the key attributes he needed up front but, looking around, who can support Almiron and Joelinton on these counters? Allan Saint-Maximin, maybe, but how does he fit into Bruce’s favoured 3-5-2 system with Almiron and Joelinton?
Substitute Yoshinori Muto touched on these teething problems post-match when he said he felt ‘isolated’ up front as Newcastle went in search of a consolation goal after seeing Joelinton ‘struggling’ in the first-half.
Norwich 3-1 NUFC analysis
At the other end of the field, if the basics and the Pukki level of effort off the ball are not there, Newcastle simply won’t survive in the Premier League.
Bruce felt his side ‘got caught up in it, the first day,’ following his warnings all week that they would have to be at their best to silence the home support at Carrow Road on Norwich’s first home game back in the big time.
Trips to newly-promoted sides are never easy, but these are the kind of games Newcastle have to take positives from, performance wise, if they do not manage get a result.
Bruce was not able to do that and did not feel the need to say all that much to his players post-match before bringing them in on their day off on Sunday.
Just two games in, Bruce has been faced with a scenario he was not expecting: his players ‘not putting their boots on’ as he put it after the game.
Matt Ritchie, a key dressing room leader, wants patience – vowing to make sure a similar performance does not happen again – and maintains the players believe in Bruce.
Paul Dummett has called on his team-mates to look themselves in the mirror after worryingly noting ‘from the start, the warm-up,’ things were not right.
A trip to Spurs won’t be easy on Sunday but if there is a time Newcastle need to dig in and fight for each other, it is now.
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