Robin Sainty: Mix and match is vital for Canaries

Jordan Hugill of Norwich during the FA Cup match at Carrow Road, Norwich

Jordan Hugill gives Norwich City an important different dimension to their play - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

FA Cup weekend brought plenty to be cheerful about for City and their fans, but there were also a couple of causes for concern too.

The Canaries made short work of a spirited, but limited, Coventry side with the luxury of two early goals allowing them to treat the rest of the game, despite an improved showing from the visitors in the second half, as little more than an extended training session and a chance to get miles into the legs of returning players.

Daniel Farke would have been delighted with the contributions of Xavi Quintilla and Bali Mumba, who both looked sharp and offered plenty of width whenever City were in possession, while Przemyslaw Placheta’s role in the second goal was exactly what many of us have been wanting to see more of from him, taking on the full-back and getting the early cross in.

The fact that Jordan Hugill was on the end of that cross to supply a neat finish will do wonders for his confidence and Farke was complimentary about the way in which he led the line.

Crawley Town's Jordan Tunnicliffe (centre) scores his side's third goal of the game during the Emira

Leeds get that sinking feeling as Crawley Town's Jordan Tunnicliffe (centre) scores his side's third goal in their upset FA Cup win - Credit: PA

As I mentioned last week, that sort of performance was vital both for Hugill and for City’s future prospects. The reason that’s important relates to what happened on Sunday when current media darlings Leeds United were unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Cup by League Two Crawley, something that many Canaries fans will have found very satisfying, but the manner of their defeat should sound at least a faint warning bell for City.

Like City, Leeds have recruited technical players who are able to keep the ball for long periods and who eschew the temptation to get the ball into the box quickly unless a clear opportunity presents itself. That's served both clubs tremendously well, but Crawley showed that even when there is a significant gulf in quality, a well-drilled team that is highly disciplined and keeps its shape while their opponent plays the ball around in front of them can be very hard to break down, something that City have already experienced several times this season.

Ultimately, Leeds’ undoubted technical superiority counted for very little and the result emphasised the fact that teams that become predictable in their approach eventually become easier to combat. Look at the Barcelona team of the “tika taka” era who looked virtually unbeatable, but eventually found themselves overtaken, or closer to home Sheffield United, who confounded opponents for two seasons with their overlapping centre backs but are currently in danger of taking Derby County’s unwanted record of the lowest points total in a Premier league season.

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Teams that don’t evolve tactically are always worked out at some point, and with modern analytical systems that’s now generally sooner rather than later. In an ideal world the sort of exquisite skill of which an Emi Buendia or Todd Cantwell is capable would always be enough to win football matches, but it’s a fact that there are times when the broadsword is more effective than the rapier.

No one would accuse Hugill of subtlety in what he does on the pitch, but his ability to ruffle feathers may be a very useful tool as we get towards the business end of the season.

The second cause for concern is, of course, the arrival of coronavirus in the City camp. It’s hardly surprising given the level of infection in the country as a whole, and hopefully any spread can be contained, but there is inevitably increasing concern in football circles about whether a temporary suspension of the game will follow any further tightening of lockdown rules. Clearly the fact that a number of games have already had to be postponed is going to make an already crowded fixture list even worse, but I do understand the value of the game as a morale booster in these difficult times so hopefully we will see some improvement.

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