Robin Sainty: Ben Godfrey is Norwich City's man for all situations
PUBLISHED: 07:00 12 January 2019
When I was growing up the FA Cup was something special, culminating in the day of the final when for just once in the year, TV would devote several hours to the build-up with the game itself the highlight of the football calendar.
It was a premier competition and every Cup Saturday afternoon was exciting as we followed our team and waited for news of giant killings.
However, of the 30 third round ties played last weekend a grand total of 10 kicked off at 3pm on Saturday afternoon with the others scattered across three days for the benefit of TV coverage, much of it not even domestic. The Cup’s soul has been well and truly sold and it has simply become an opportunity for managers to play fringe players while resting their stars for more important competitions.
Consequently, while I never like to see City lose, my only real concern on Saturday was avoiding further injuries or suspensions, and whilst the combination of a physical Portsmouth defence and a referee who appeared to have an aversion to producing a yellow card somehow managed to avoid the former, the sending off of Grant Hanley by Darren Bond has put paid to any thoughts of a return for the captain this afternoon.
In fairness to the referee I think it would be hard to argue about the decision, given the lack of cover and the uncontrolled nature of the challenge, but it will be hugely frustrating to Daniel Farke.
Hanley’s sending off also proved unfortunate for Ben Marshall, who soon found himself out of position on the left in the revamped formation. Marshall has made little impression at City and is being linked with a loan move away in the transfer window, yet has hardly had a chance in his favoured right wide berth.
What will please Farke, however, is that despite playing for 77 minutes with 10 men, City’s second string showed exactly the same composure in possession that we have come to expect from their Championship starters, although it was no coincidence that the Canaries’ outstanding players were the three survivors from the Brentford line-up.
However, Kenny McLean will have done his prospects no harm at all with an all-action display, perhaps best exemplified late on when he received a pass as City’s last man with two Portsmouth players converging but rather than passing back to his goalkeeper simply dropped a shoulder and surged into midfield to start an attack. His energy could provide a massive boost given Farke’s depleted central options.
It was also interesting to see Todd Cantwell in his preferred number 10 position where he was able to exert more influence on the game and got on the ball more frequently, as a result of which he produced his best performance for some time. But for me City’s standout performer was Ben Godfrey who seems to be able to adapt to any situation without missing a beat.
Godfrey was immense, although he was closely matched by Christoph Zimmermann as they coped with everything that Portsmouth were able to produce until that last-minute breakaway.
I think it says a great deal about the aura that City have created around themselves this season that Portsmouth were so unambitious, despite a man advantage, and for long periods seemed more concerned with keeping City out than landing a knockout blow themselves.
With most key players having had a well-earned rest and the injury situation improving, this weekend’s game perhaps comes at a good time for City who will want to regain the momentum lost over the holiday period.
After the ragged performance at Brentford where City played more long balls than I’ve seen from them all season it would be good to see them get back to first principles again today and get the passing game going again. If they do they have every chance of a positive result.