Paddy Davitt verdict: What price on Norwich City’s fighting spirit?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City's ill-judged FA Cup pricing policy did nothing to build bridges but Alex Neil's squad salvaged another depressing Carrow Road affair.
The flak that has flown before and since in relation to the excessive entrance fee is a message that should resonate loudly. The fading allure of the world famous competition or even City's declining Championship fortunes of late were not the primary factors behind a half-empty stadium.
The 'magic' of the FA Cup is now the exclusive preserve of clubs such as Lincoln or Plymouth or plucky Stourbridge, but this was a spectacular own goal from the Canaries to entice a big crowd and generate some much-needed positive PR.
It was left to the soaring Steven Naismith to reward those hardy souls undeterred by a pricing structure topped only by the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United across the country on third round weekend.
Southampton were slick and smooth in possession but Norwich's resolve proved stronger. The replay came at a cost, however, with Timm Klose hobbling away from the action at a pivotal moment in the second period.
The Swiss international took to social media yesterday to allay fears of a lengthy lay-off, and despite his manager's frustrations at Klose's 'naïve' exit from the field of play prior to Maya Yoshida's goal, the defender's recall has coincided with a marked upturn.
The 28-year-old is unquestionably one of the two best centre backs on Neil's roster. He was not alone in suffering a prolonged dip in form this season but alongside Russell Martin has exuded a more soothing air since paired together at Brentford.
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Norwich's downturn eradicated any margin for error if they still harbour top six ambitions but the manner of their Saints' fightback can be the lasting legacy of this cup tie, once the admission price furore abates.
Neil alluded to a telling statistic in his post-match briefing. Such resilience has proved an elusive commodity; that collective ability to dig in, to endure adversity and respond in kind. Naismith's glancing header from Steven Whittaker's cross, after his fellow Scottish international had equalised from the penalty spot earlier in the proceedings, was the first time since March 2015 City had come back not once but twice in a game to rescue a positive result.
Jamar Loza's strike deep, deep into stoppage time at Huddersfield earned Neil's men a hard-fought point at the Terriers on a cold, wet, miserable night in Yorkshire, after James Vaughan had cancelled out Wes Hoolahan's leveller. That draw came in the midst of a gathering promotion surge unleashed by Neil, who had arrived from Hamilton two months earlier. We know the rest.
It is going to take a lot more than an FA Cup fightback in front of a half-empty Carrow Road for this group to emulate the class of 2015, but Southampton marked another step in a forward direction.
Neil made five changes to his starting line up and those on duty showed a willingness to fight and resist, to spend long spells without the ball and overcome two lapses punished by Virgil van Dijk and Yoshida.
Norwich's FA Cup run may end at St Mary's in the replay but there was an appetite to compete, allied to the manner they swatted Derby County aside, that offers grounds for encouragement.
Neil and his under-performing players backed themselves into a corner following eight defeats in 10. There have been signs of a pulse in these last three outings. They found a way to survive at Brentford, when Robbie Brady was red-carded. They found a way to ease the growing anxiety and tension inside Carrow Road in those fraught opening exchanges against the Rams. And now they have proved against decent Premier League opposition a much-changed line up is capable of more than another brief flirtation with the FA Cup. Neil's task is to harness those stirrings into a concerted, consistent response.