Michael Bailey: Mops, McLean, Marshall, salt and Pompey – Six things learned from Norwich City's FA Cup exit
So that was brief… Norwich City correspondent Michael Bailey wraps the sole dose of FA Cup lessons this season as Portsmouth triumph at Carrow Road.
1 – Plans are never a guarantee
Once the incredulousness was set aside and the replays digested, we were left with Grant Hanley’s body language and head in his hands.
It was a rash and mistimed moment on Ronan Curtis; a decision for all the derision, that referee Darren Bond got right – even though it was still a fair distance from goal. And of course, the effect on Saturday’s FA Cup clash with Portsmouth was profound.
But Hanley’s reaction seemed to be much more about the bigger picture.
This is now a hugely competitive Norwich City squad with a serious promotion challenge on its hands. Centre-back is arguably one of its strongest points, regardless of City’s defensive issues. If a chance pops up to prove something, you have to take it.
In that moment, Hanley knew one misjudgment had blown a key chance to prepare himself and put forward his case for the coming months. And that definitely wasn’t the plan.
2 – Hair is more useful than numbers
Stranger Things, season one. The character Eleven, to be precise. It’s an unconventional inspiration for a hair cut, but I’m not down with the kids so won’t pretend to understand.
That was my first thought on Saturday, as a new era in appearance dawned for Todd Cantwell. The second was that it was about to get far harder to identify the Norwich City forward during the game.
I hadn’t realised how much I’d relied on those flowing blonde locks.
Hair aside, Cantwell’s performance showed huge maturity – as encouraging as any he’s put in: taking responsibility on the ball in the first half, adding bursts between the lines in the second that conjured City’s best moments and provided most evidence of the gap in standing between Norwich and Portsmouth.
Todd has arguably been the biggest surprise this year – and it feels like a big few months for the forward could now be on the way.
3 – Kenny has knocked on the door
As already touched on, Saturday was mostly about opportunity for Daniel Farke’s squad – especially for Kenny McLean, returning from injury.
And it was McLean that shone brightest. Some lovely free-kick deliveries, a combative, driven midfield performance and most pleasing, one that lasted 90 minutes.
It’s quite clear McLean will now be very close to making the squad for that huge trip to West Brom at the weekend.
The thing I like about McLean being in this group is he backs the faith Norwich have in their playing philosophy. He is favoured as the second of two holding midfielders – effectively where Moritz Leitner has played – and McLean offers a different option.
But it’s only a tweak. A little more drive; more dynamic passing and maybe more goal-threat. It’s a plan B by doing the same thing slightly differently, not doing something different. It shows just how cohesive City’s rebuild has been.
4 – Marshall is playing his own game
I have always liked Ben Marshall as a player. He runs well with the ball, has a lovely set-piece delivery and a Championship track record for goals and assists.
In turn, it’s been surprising how little we have seen of him since his early-season involvement – sickness and the odd injury niggle has no doubt hampered availability. But the more I see him play here, the more to it there seems to be.
Playing as a full-back in a Farke side should be doable for Marshall given its demands and he had to deal with being on the left on Saturday, as well as being moved around following Hanley’s red card. All things considered, he worked hard and tried to do his thing.
The problem was, his thing involves regular early crosses into the box and at one point, hugging the far touchline on his own – neither have appeared in the game plan this season.
I really hope this one works. He is such an asset. But I’m losing faith that it will.
5 – Pompey are carrying some baggage
I can only guess how it must have felt for Portsmouth fans since winning the FA Cup in 2008; to seriously contemplate losing your club must be awful.
Pompey came in number and voice on Saturday, and they were excellent; bouncing at winning a tie @frattonlad on Twitter called “as big as beating #Spurs in the semis” – a nod to their 2010 FA Cup run to the final.
It’s brilliant how their supporters turned the club round from the depths. It is now owned by a US investment firm.
It’s a curious mix that those Pompey fans to lovingly contact me since Saturday, don’t regret the rash cash splash that helped win them the FA Cup but played a part in almost costing them their club; that they resent others now having a bigger budget than them; and that they feel an under-appreciation for their Kenny Jackett-inspired knack of winning points.
I was looking forward to seeing the League One leaders – and I was generally disappointed with what I saw. Good luck to them.
6 – City have no need for cup magic
The magic of the cup. Last season, City were in desperate need of it – and got it. Arsenal in the Carabao Cup in front of almost 9,000 City fans at the Emirates. That Jamal Lewis equaliser in the final FA Cup moments at Chelsea.
Those performances were the highlights of a generally turgid season. They bought the faith and time to keep City ticking along as the huge rebuild undertook its most crucial work – barely carrying through to the moment it clicked this term.
And as soon as it clicked, all hell in the Championship broke loose. Regardless of personal hopes and romantic FA Cup notions, City have all the magic they need this season in the league.
With Sheffield United being humiliated by non-league Barnet, City’s run through this month and next is unchanged and challenging. It may well define so much of the rest of the campaign.
These moments don’t come round often. Suck it up and bawl it out – starting at The Hawthorns on Saturday.
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