Paddy Davitt verdict: Finance not fairytales is the currency for Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
There should be no mourning period for another brief flirtation with the FA Cup. Premier League survival is the only gauge to assess a successful season for Alex Neil and his Norwich City squad.
Getting the runaround from a genuine world class talent in Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero was hardly the anniversary present Neil craved a year to the day after taking over in memorable fashion at Bournemouth.
But City's stumble at the first hurdle was entirely in keeping with the club's fractious modern-day relationship with the world famous cup competition. Norwich have failed to progress beyond the fifth round since reaching the semi-final in 1992. The 'magic' of the FA Cup is now exclusively the preserve of the Paulton Rovers, the Luton's, the Orient's of this world, until the elite flex their considerable muscles when the Wembley Arch looms into view.
There will be those who would have liked to have seen more of an even contest at Carrow Road, more than flickering resistance from the likes of Vadis Odjidja and Cameron Jerome once Aguero had moved centre stage with a brilliant individual finish and then the assist for Kelechi Iheanacho. The destiny of this tie was effectively sealed in those 15 first half minutes. But Neil should not apologise for his approach or Norwich's priority list. Only the die hard romantics would argue.
The Scot could have retained the same personnel who overcame Southampton and still been on the end of a pummelling from the Citizens. This is a club that can replace Raheem Sterling with Kevin De Bruyne; two summer signings who reportedly cost a combined £99m.
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Had Neil kept the same roster Norwich's prospects of picking up points at either Stoke City or Bournemouth this week would have been seriously diminished. That is not a lack of respect to the FA Cup, that is a pragmatic acceptance English football at the top end is now fuelled by the financial streams underpinning Premier League membership.
There are no guarantees Neil's selection policy will pay dividends at the Britannia Stadium, but key men like Robbie Brady and Alex Tettey can only benefit from an afternoon off following a hectic festive spell.
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That is not to dismiss Norwich's fitful productivity against far wealthier opponents. City have bridged that seismic gap at Anfield and Old Trafford already this season. The Canaries' inability to retain possession was ruthlessly punished by Aguero in the opening period. The time and space afforded to Manchester City's creative battalions was a reminder whoever wears the green and yellow is expected to perform at their absolute maximum.
John Ruddy was left exposed too often, notably when Aguero burst past Graham Dorrans and Seb Bassong before a blurring change of direction to swerve around the sliding Russell Martin and guide a finish beyond the advancing keeper.
Special players produce special moments. Neil grudgingly accepted the Argentine is up there with the best while swiftly focusing on the deficiencies of his own side. There was more of those to digest in the manner Aguero cut inside Martin and Ryan Bennett to pick out his unmarked team mate to roll the ball past Ruddy.
The lack of cohesion and organisation evoked sour memories of Norwich's lowest points in a campaign which has bent in an upward curve of late. Odjijda and Jerome attempted to spark a response but Willy Caballero dealt competently with the hosts' sporadic efforts from long range.
The mood inside the stadium was one of acceptance long before De Bruyne backed Bennett into his own penalty area before rifling through Ruddy. Jesus Navas crashed another fearsome shot against Ruddy's woodwork and the big man then clawed out Bersant Celina's goalbound effort.
By that late stage there was a degree of arrogance to the way the visitors were toying with Norwich as the hosts committed men forward in the aftermath of Kyle Lafferty's entrance. That superior attitude was reflected in elements of the away support, who seemed to delight in mocking their home counterparts in a manner which left you to reflect their club was languishing in League One, and wallowing in the considerable shadow of their neighbours, before the influx of Arab money.
But the rise and rise of Manchester City underlines the shifting sands of English football and the necessity to harness considerable revenue streams. It is no longer about Ronnie Radford screamers or Keith Houchen diving headers, success or failure is measured on the balance sheet and continued membership of an exclusive Premier League club.