David Freezer: Low priority FA Cup clash with Pompey still has plenty to keep City fans interested
The magic of the FA Cup, you just can't beat it can you, City fans? Can you? Anyone?!
Everything about today’s third round tie with Portsmouth points to it being a complete sideshow to the real focus of this season – but I’m actually quite looking forward to it.
It’s been quite a while since there’s been a Canaries game without any tension, without a nail-biting comeback or the game still being in the balance as we head into the final stages. Yet this evening almost no-one in the stadium will be too upset if they lose, a sad indictment of the decline of the world’s oldest club competition.
Anything short of a total abdication of duty to – such as the 4-0 home embarrassment at the hands of MK Dons in the League Cup in 2011 – and I suspect City supporters will handle a defeat with a shrug of the shoulders.
Daniel Farke’s team are in such an unexpectedly strong Championship position that the collective sigh of relief was palpable when the final whistle went at Brentford on New Year’s Day, cup action seen merely as a welcome break.
Hopefully, one day, in the not too distant future, the FA Cup will matter again to Norwich. Today is not that day.
Unfortunately it does feel like the competition has had to be at the bottom of the club’s priorities for quite a while though, such has been the constant battle for league progress in the past decade.
Let’s get the depressing bit out of the way. City have gone out in the third round in each of the last five seasons and been knocked out by lower level teams in four of the past 10.
Only one of the last 10 ties at Carrow Road have brought a Norwich victory, beating Burnley 4-1 in the third round in 2012, when the Clarets were in the second tier and Paul Lambert’s team were in the Premier League.
There are plenty more nightmare FA Cup statistics since the club’s last semi-final appearance in 1992, but let’s just sum it up by saying: it’s not been a competition which has brought much joy in that time.
However, that doesn’t mean there’s not plenty of interest and intrigue in the players Farke picks.
It seems almost certain that City’s head coach will make wholesale changes, given he already has injury worries over players as important as Jamal Lewis, Alex Tettey, Moritz Leitner, Marco Stiepermann and Emi Buendia.
Add to that the probable desire to give Max Aarons and Todd Cantwell a rest, and the amount of football Timm Klose and Teemu Pukki have played this season – and you aren’t left with much of a team.
So it’s time to find out what some of the fringe players have got to say for themselves.
Felix Passlack, signed amid plenty of hype for his teenage exploits at Borussia Dortmund, is certainly a player causing confusion. He started all four Carabao Cup ties and offered a mixture of bright attacking urges and lightweight defending. If the German is sticking around for the rest of the season, he surely has to be involved, otherwise, what’s the point of having him on loan?
Grant Hanley can bank a much needed 90 minutes in defence and Tom Trybull in midfield, after an encouraging display at Brentford.
Former skipper Ivo Pinto looks very likely to leave when his deal expires in the summer, can he put himself in the shop window, or will he stay to fight for a place?
What about Ben Marshall? Signed for £1.5m in the summer but has made just six appearances and been on the bench for 11 of the last 12 league matches without appearing to even be close to coming on. If he doesn’t get a chance to impress against Pompey then there doesn’t appear to be much hope for the rest of the season.
Even loan striker Jordan Rhodes, a hit in the stands and dressing room thanks to his attitude, but with just one goal from his last 11 league games. Given the form of Pukki it’s little surprise that his last nine appearances have been from the bench – but he must be desperate to add to his tally of eight goals.
Throw Dennis Srbeny and some young prospects into the mix as well and there’s plenty for supporters to enjoy from a match against tough opposition in League One leaders Portsmouth.
And if it just adds to the miserable FA Cup record then, sorry traditionalists, but it really won’t worry me. If City get through, it will be down to the same group to keep trying to force their way into the league team and show Farke what they’re made of.
Given the potential promotion battle that’s within touching distance, that’s well worth fighting for.
• ELSEWHERE IN THE CUP
If you haven’t had a chance to have a read of my interview with Jamar Loza elsewhere on the website yet, do give it a look before Woking take on Watford in the FA Cup third round at 2pm on Sunday.
It’s always good to see academy products who didn’t make it at Norwich bouncing back and Jamar has had to do it the hard way, after an ankle injury ruined last season for him. That one is live on BT Sport if you fancy watching it.
There’s more FA Cup interest for former Canaries of course though. Harry Toffolo and Jason Shackell go to Everton with the giant-killers of recent years, League Two leaders Lincoln, in one of the few 3pm Saturday kick-offs.
Some of Toffolo’s FA Youth Cup winning team-mates will also be hoping to be part of famous upsets. Cameron McGeehan heads to Burnley with Barnsley, Reece Hall-Johnson and Grimsby also travel to Premier League opposition when they take on Crystal Palace and Cameron Norman is away to Brentford with Oxford.
• TOP WORK, TIM
Amid a hard-earned draw that took real character from City after a poor first half, the 1-1 draw at Brentford could well prove to be a turning point for Tim Krul.
The two spectacular saves in the second half at Griffin Park were just the sort of confidence boost Daniel Farke’s number one needed, particularly after conceding four goals against Derby that he had little chance with.
There’s no denying there have been plenty of questions about the former Newcastle keeper during the first half of the season but he also made some crucial stops as City fought back against Forest.
As we were heading towards the January transfer window I was starting to worry that a keeper might have to be added to Stuart Webber’s list but overall the Dutchman seems to be winning his battle to regain form and fitness now.
He’s come back from a horrible injury, so those saves at Brentford felt like big moments, when City are clearly going to need a dominant keeper in these next few defining months.
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