Norwich City recorded their ninth successive league victory on Wednesday evening, easing past Nottingham Forest by two goals to nil at the City Ground.
Early first-half strikes from Teemu Pukki and Kieran Dowell set the visitors up for a comfortable 90 minutes, with Forest failing to convincingly lay a glove on the Championship’s runaway leaders throughout.
Most of the talk on social media in the build-up to kick-off was focused on key absences for either side. Emi Buendia would be missing for Norwich due to the birth of his child, and an injury to Brice Samba saw Jordan Smith make his first league start for Forest since July.
Coming up against a side who had scored 53 times in the Championship before Wednesday night – 18 of those coming in their last eight games – it promised to be a busy night for the Reds goalkeeper.
The visitors started well on the front foot, with Kieran Dowell – Buendia’s replacement for the evening – driving in from the right before dragging an effort narrowly wide of the near post. Max Aarons also forced Smith into action from a similar position soon after, but it didn’t take long for Norwich to break the deadlock.
On 10 minutes, Teemu Pukki was allowed to gain half a yard of space on Tyler Blackett on the edge of the area, before rifling an effort across Smith and into the back of the net. A 22nd league goal of the season for Pukki and a deserved lead for Norwich, but they didn’t plan on stopping there, as three minutes later, the Canaries doubled their lead.
Dowell found space in the final third and played a quick one-two with Lukas Rupp, before volleying a thunderous first-time effort into the bottom corner, leaving the returning Forest shot-stopper with no chance of saving. 2-0 to Norwich on 13 minutes, and a huge mountain to climb for Forest.
The Canaries may well have added a third goal shortly after, too, with a corner causing havoc and the ball having to be cleared off the goal line.
Forest did come extremely close to pulling a goal back with their first real attack of the contest, but Ryan Yates – unmarked inside the penalty area – headed high and wide following a dangerous delivery from a corner.
But Norwich’s slick, precise passing on the ball and movement off it was proving to be a massive gulf between the two sides. Shortly before the half-hour mark, Pukki had another sight of goal, slipped through by Todd Cantwell and finding the side netting from an acute angle.
The Finland international was proving to be a huge threat, though, and he almost turned provider on 34 minutes. A swift counter-attack saw the forward away down the right, before cutting the ball across the area to find an unmarked Kenny McLean. Smith did well to rush off his line and make a point-blank save to deny the midfielder, who was one-on-one.
Forest were, in truth, crying out for the half-time whistle and a breather as Norwich continued to dominate. The visitors cruised into half-time having accrued 70% of the ball in the opening 45 minutes, and had a thoroughly deserved 2-0 lead to show for it.
No changes were made by either side at the break as Chris Hughton desperately searched for some sort of improvement from his team. Luke Freeman did attempt to give his teammates a bit of a lift, showing clever footwork just inside the area before curling just wide of the target.
Lewis Grabban – upon his return to the side – was then given his first sight of goal on 53 minutes. James Garner nicked the ball off Rupp, prompting cries for a foul from the Norwich bench, before threading the ball through to Grabban, but Tim Krul reacted well to rush off his line and smother the danger.
Down the other end, the dangerous Pukki was proving to be a nuisance once again. He threatened to double his tally for the night, forcing a good save out of Smith from a tight angle having been slipped in on goal. He, again, almost turned creator, showing plenty of endeavour down the right flank before pulling the ball back for Todd Cantwell, who scuffed a miscued effort wide.
Hughton made his first changes of the evening heading into the final 15 minutes of what had been a one-sided contest. Alex Mighten and Lyle Taylor hoping to add a bit of inspiration in the final third, replacing Freeman and Grabban respectively.
But there was to be very little improvement in the final third, however, and it was Norwich who looked most likely to find the net. Dimitris Giannoulis had Smith scurrying away to his left, as a speculative effort bent just wide of the far post.
Mighten’s fresh legs did help, but only from a defensive point-of-view as he managed to keep up with the rampaging Max Aarons, who had a low effort deflected wide for a corner from close-range.
Daniel Farke was to freshen things up in the closing stages, making use all of five substitutes and bringing on Jordan Hugill, Onel Hernandez, Christoph Zimermann, Alex Tettey and Jacob Sorensen as they looked to add insult to injury.
But there was to be no third goal for the visitors. The final whistle blew, and the Canaries had made it a remarkable nine wins on the bounce, restoring their 10-point lead at the summit of the Championship table.
Forest left to lick their wounds after being outplayed by the league leaders, in a game where early goals proved decisive and a gulf in quality showed.