Paddy Davitt verdict: City’s FA Cup legacy needs to be nourished
Should the game be up for Norwich City this season there were enough elements in another FA Cup epic to restore a sense of optimism.
Premier League defeats to Southampton and Everton, particularly the manner of the dross served up in the second half against the Saints, a chronic lack of goals and defensive naivety had conspired to envelop Daniel Farke’s squad in a cloak of despondency with many.
But in the tactical discipline, in some of the individual performances, in the response to fresh adversity and a goal fit to end any drought, once the inevitable disappointment recedes this was a display to re-connect with the disaffected.
Only Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can answer why he opted to sail so close to the wind by resting his best attacking weaponry from the start. Some may interpret it as arrogance and a dismissal of what Norwich could muster.
That seems at odds with the public persona of the under-stated Norwegian, who insisted he wanted to protect tired bodies and place his trust in those who had manoeuvred his club to the last eight.
Nevertheless, it must surely have provided a pre-match boost in the home changing room to a set of players who rightly may have feared they would suffer at the talented feet of Marcus Rashford again.
Farke was correct in his own assertion the two sobering Premier League defeats earlier this season had suggested the quality gap was a chasm.
But City’s assured performance owed so much more to their own endeavours.
They were cohesive out of possession and carried more threat on the counter than they had done in the two previous behind closed doors affairs.
The hosts opted to condense the play and deny the likes of Juan Mata the time and space to profit.
How Farke viewed the task at hand echoed that standout home league win over dethroned champions Manchester City.
The biggest difference between the two games came not on the pitch but off it.
A raucous din to see off Pep’s boys was replaced by the sound of silence; a truly sad state of affairs for a Carrow Road night that deserved a riot of colour and sound befitting a first FA Cup quarter-final in these parts in a generation.
Lukas Rupp’s versatility may have brought unfair criticism since his January arrival.
Based on his City career to date it is not uncharitable to state he offers much less in an attacking wide role than he might well do operating in a defensively-minded midfield station.
Farke’s tactical ploy by positioning Rupp in a more withdrawn role to provide extra insurance behind Emi Buendia down the Norwich right proved an astute move.
Alongside Kenny McLean and Alex Tettey it offered a sturdy barrier that also protected a back four left badly exposed in recent times.
If City do return swiftly to the Championship over these remaining league games, Rupp will definitely be part of the masterplan.
No such guarantees can be offered regarding Todd Cantwell, or any of the youngsters who will be highly coveted commodities.
Let the transfer dances play out in due course.
They will be endless and alas the overwhelming slew of speculation will be rooted in fiction not fact.
For now, simply reflect on how good Cantwell looked when switched into the 10 role that felt his natural inheritance coming through the academy.
To blood him in such a demanding position at the start of his senior career would have placed an undue burden on young shoulders.
But the manner he knitted the play in the second half, the energy and dynamism he brought to an area of the park Norwich have struggled all season, and the quality of his swerving finish underlined City have a homegrown prospect capable of assuming the mantle.
His untimely injury exit in the closing stages of normal time was every bit as cruel a blow as Timm Klose’s red card for hauling back Odion Ighalo, when Norwich were threatening to establish superiority.
From that point onwards it effectively regressed to a full-on rearguard action, and whether Tim Krul’s heroics could engineer another penalty shoot-out. But there would be no repeat of Tottenham.
Harry Maguire lashed United into the last four, and City were left to reflect on what might have been.
In the short term there will be a price to pay for the midweek league trip to Arsenal with fresh injury concerns and Klose’s suspension. Not to mention the toll on those asked to go the distance.
That result at the Emirates may push Farke’s club ever closer to a decisive tipping point in their Premier League quest.
If so the process of clinging onto something positive and optimistic must then gather pace.
Whether it is Rupp or Cantwell in central berths, or the start of greater first team exposure for Adam Idah and Josh Martin, there remains much at stake for today and tomorrow.
A brave but ultimately painful FA Cup defeat must not stand in isolation in this abbreviated end to a heavily-disrupted season.
It needs to contain fresh seeds to flower again under Farke and Webber.