Paddy Davitt verdict: City's cup is running over
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Daniel Farke had bemoaned the endless grind to position Norwich City at the top of the Championship. He got his wish for an easier ride in the FA Cup.
Perhaps for the first time this campaign Farke was able to prowl his technical area with a modicum of comfort, against a Coventry City side who lacked the intensity of their previous league visit.
Contrast those recent tense finales against QPR or Barnsley at Carrow Road with the high octane start to this FA Cup third round tie.
The relative luxury of a two-goal cushion, courtesy of Kenny McLean and Jordan Hugill inside 80 seconds, appeared to stun the Sky Blues.
There was a far greater edge to their collective work after the interval. No doubt stoked by some choice words from Mark Robins.
But Norwich had the insurance and the knowledge that at any point they could slip a gear again and bring on an enviable cast list from the bench, had Coventry found a way past Daniel Barden.
Farke labelled it as close to the perfect afternoon as he could have wished. Progress to Monday’s joint fourth and fifth round draws, exposure for fringe players young and old, and some rest for frontline operators.
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You had to feel a degree of sympathy for Robins as he watched Max Aarons, Teemu Pukki, Emi Buendia and Olly Skipp enter the field of play.
The Sky Blues’ boss claimed in his post-match media it was the strongest bench he had seen at this level.
Farke made seven changes from the side that kept City top of the Championship against the Tykes. But there was no let up in the desire or the urgency or the craving to retain that winning feeling.
It is a testament to the German’s man management but also the characters he has assembled under his command.
You can be sure up and down the country in a disrupted third round weekend some of his managerial contemporaries will not have got the same from much changed rosters.
Norwich do have a richness of resource unrivalled in the second tier this time around. But it still needs to be melded into an effective fighting force.
That impressive reserve list contrasted sharply with November’s league tussle between the sides, when City were unable to take their full complement and Marco Stiepermann was deployed as a makeshift striker. But Farke still had issues to resolve going into the return.
Chief among them the situation in goal with Tim Krul ruled out after testing positive for coronavirus and Michael McGovern undergoing successful hamstring surgery in the build up.
The manner 20-year-old Barden stepped into the breach was a credit to the young man and the environment City have created under Farke and Stuart Webber to develop and, more importantly perhaps, trust young talent.
Farke was right to preach caution after a clean sheet in no small part owed to Barden’s reflexes, in the manner he foiled Max Biamou twice in the second half.
Raw talent normally equates to inconsistency and dips in performance. Unless you go by the name Aarons. City will continue to search for a suitable reinforcement this month in the transfer window, with McGovern out for months.
There is also another factor now in play surrounding Norwich’s number one. Irrespective of when Krul finishes his self-isolation in the coming days the intangible by-product is when he actually feels fit and healthy enough to return to Championship duties.
Barden showed enough to feel he could deputise again at Cardiff this weekend, but it would surely be too much to expect he fills the void for any greater length of time.
It is another branch of the same complex equation Farke is faced with on a weekly basis.
Trying to find the answers to not only position Norwich for success but, from this point, seal the deal.
A routine FA Cup win is a pleasant distraction but the lasting legacy might well be the sight of Bali Mumba and Xavi Quintilla back after recent layoffs.
Or firm evidence the type of attacking template that needs to be woven around Hugill to extract the most from his aerial ability.
He is no Pukki, who is in this league, but he can be a hugely effective alternative down the stretch.
No wonder Farke had the air of a happy man. This was as much about Championship clues as it was FA Cup progress.