Melissa Rudd: The heat is on – but can City benefit from Manchester United’s malaise?
©Focus Images Limited www.focus-images.co.uk +447814 482222
The third round of the FA Cup hasn’t conjured up much joy for Norwich City fans in recent years.
There was a creditable goalless draw against Chelsea in 2018, followed by penalty heartbreak at Stamford Bridge in the replay, but aside from that they have suffered mainly forgettable defeats.
Unfortunately, the excitement of a guaranteed fourth round fixture for the first time since 2013 lasted only just over 48 hours, when a trip to Burnley was confirmed as the reward.
Perhaps we shouldn't lament a tie against a fellow Premier League outfit too much. Seven years ago the prize for beating Peterborough was hosting non-league Luton in what most predicted would be a favourable path to a shot at the quarter-finals. We all know what happened then.
The resounding victory at Deepdale, inspired by Adam Idah's superb hat-trick, provided welcome respite to VAR drama and City's propensity to fail to build on a one-goal lead and then throw it away, both of which have been the source of much frustration and misery over the past few weeks.
Norwich's performances over the festive period deserved to yield far more than the two points they added to their tally, yet despite Teemu Pukki's ruled out goal that should have put them 2-0 up against Tottenham showcasing the absolute worst of VAR, City can't pin their depressing league position on hard luck alone.
The half-time whistle on New Year's Day marked the fifth home game in a row that Daniel Farke's side had gone into the break holding a lead.
The full-time whistle marked the fifth time in a row they had squandered it and failed to win at Carrow Road.
In those 450-plus minutes of football you could pinpoint a number of single moments that highlight the fine lines between winning and losing in the Premier League, and in City's case being five points adrift of the nearest team or challenging for the top 10.
Ultimately, though, not being able to earn a single victory in games they were winning against Arsenal, Sheffield United, Wolves, Tottenham and Crystal Palace comes down to poor game management from those in the dugout and on the pitch.
Not for the first time in his tenure, Farke has come in for criticism over the lateness of his substitutions, none of which came before the 70-minute mark in those matches despite the team looking as though they were crying out for change much earlier at times.
The quality of the reinforcements at his disposal on the bench has been another point of contention that is bound to continue to divide the fanbase as we continue through this transfer window adopting the self-funded model.
What is more relevant in terms of what the players at the club can control is City's detrimental habit of tensing up in the second half of games to the point where they visibly retreat when the opposition is in possession and look as though they are simply waiting to concede rather than exhibiting a determination not to.
Maybe that shouldn't come as a surprise given they have only been able to secure top-flight wins three times in 21 attempts. Psychology looks as though it is playing a big part in Norwich being so close, yet so far away, from making this season a success.
It might be easier to take for some of us if City were being outplayed every week. Instead, Norwich are competing with some of the richest clubs and most lauded teams in the land, yet falling short often enough for a seven-point gap to have emerged between themselves and safety with four months of the season still to play.
Old Trafford on Saturday is not the daunting prospect it once was, and after being humbled by their rivals in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final in midweek, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer finds himself under immense pressure to record back-to-back league wins at the Theatre of Dreams - a feat he hasn't achieved all season. After three of the last four league outings at Carrow Road, City might actually benefit from the heat being firmly off them and on their opponents for the afternoon.