David Cuffley Carlisle United 3, Norwich City 1: It is generally agreed that the FA Cup has lost much of its sparkle in the 21st century - and the reasons for such a lack of lustre are numerous. The Football Association can take much of the blame.

David Cuffley

It is generally agreed that the FA Cup has lost much of its sparkle in the 21st century - and the reasons for such a lack of lustre are numerous.

The Football Association can take much of the blame. A competition once felt too prestigious to be tarnished by sponsorship has had its name tampered with, its coverage swapped between TV channels according to the highest bidder, its draw moved from a regular slot to all manner of times and days, and its matches played at ludicrous times to suit TV companies and armchair fans, to the extent that we are lucky to get one Saturday afternoon game on the traditional quarter-finals day.

The twin ogres of the Premier League and Champions League have gradually muscled the old competition out of the picture and Wembley itself is now home to so many two-bit tinpot matches that the final itself is almost lost in the football calendar.

If we were searching for a good example of the absurdity of the modern FA Cup, Norwich City's second round tie at Carlisle on Saturday provided it.

With the game moved to a 5.15pm start for live internet screening, fewer than 4,000 fans turned out on a bitterly cold, foggy November night at Brunton Park for what should have been one of the more attractive fixtures of round two. But for the few hundred hardy Canary followers who ventured north despite the journey and the inconvenient kick-off time, the attendance would have been even more miserable.

Those who did make the trip probably wondered why they had bothered. For all their impressive football in League One, no one seriously expected the current Canaries to get as close to Wembley as their third division forefathers of just over 50 years ago, but they would have at least have demanded that they put up a fight to get into the third round, with the potential for at least one glamour tie in the New Year.

Instead they were treated to probably the worst performance of manager Paul Lambert's short reign as City suffered only their second defeat in 15 matches in all competitions, and Carlisle deservedly avenged their league defeat on the same ground in October to earn themselves a trip to Everton.

At first it seemed the only winner may be the fog that descended in the minutes approaching kick-off. It thinned out during the first half, but it might have been less painful for City fans had it obscured more of what followed.

The main difference between Saturday's tie and the League One meeting seven weeks earlier was the presence of Cameroon-born striker Vincent Pericard in the Carlisle line-up.

The absence of Jens Berthel Askou, because of his wife's illness, forced a change in the City back four as Gary Doherty, making his 200th senior appearance for the club, was partnered by Michael Nelson, and the bustling Pericard and the lively Joe Anyinsah proceeded to give the defence its most testing 90 minutes for many weeks.

Carlisle gave their small crowd - vocal if at times rather blinkered - something to shout about as early as the 12th minute with an extraordinary goal by Pericard.

Anyinsah crossed from the right and although the ball appeared to be behind Pericard, he managed to flick it acrobatically past Forster with his outstretched back leg for one of ITV's goals of the day.

It took a timely block by Doherty to deny Pericard three minutes later as Carlisle looked to press home their advantage.

The Canaries drew level in the 26th minute when skipper Grant Holt headed his 16th goal of the season, but it owed a great deal to the artistry of Wes Hoolahan.

The Irishman took a pass from Adam Drury on the left-hand corner of the penalty area and went past three Carlisle defenders to reach the byline before delivering the perfect cross for Holt, stooping slightly, to head home.

City looked the better side for the remainder of the half and Holt headed just off target from Drury's cross as they pressed again.

But within 15 seconds of the restart, there was a shock for City - from which they never recovered - when Carlisle regained the lead.

Pericard got the better of Simon Lappin and Nelson, crossed from the right and Kevan Hurst drilled a low shot past Forster and inside the post.

Pericard and Graham Kavanagh both tried their luck from outside the box as Carlisle looked to make the game safe, while all City had to offer was Chris Martin's long-range effort, deflected wide for a corner, and a Lappin shot that floated over the bar.

The killer goal came after 72 minutes when Kavanagh's corner was cleared but the ball came back to him, and when he crossed again, gangling defender Richard Keogh headed home at the far post.

Ian Harte headed over the top from Kavanagh's cross as the hosts tried to rub salt in City's wounds, but the damage was done and, for the first time since 1959-60, the name of Norwich City did not figure in the FA Cup third round draw. At least that season they were promoted . . .