Alas, Smith and Jones put Norwich City out

NORWICH CITY 0, LEYTON ORIENT 1: After what has been described as a day of “frenzied speculation”, Norwich City fans can rest assured that nothing has changed at Carrow Road. Their team is still hopeless in the FA Cup.

Those of us who were brought up on stirring tales of the Canaries’ heroic victories over giants like Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham in the famous old competition have long since lost that sense of expectancy when the draw for the next round is made.

Defeats at the hands of teams such as Swindon, Brentford, Grimsby, Bury and Charlton have seen to that, ensuring that there has very seldom been a “next round” for Norwich in recent years – only three times have they progressed beyond the last 64 in the past 16 seasons.

But a home tie against Leyton Orient, beaten 4-0 on the same ground last season and in the lower reaches of League One, just seemed to offer a better than even chance that the Canaries, third in the Championship, would book their place in yesterday’s fourth round draw.

We should have known better. Perhaps buoyed by the fact they had won their last encounter with Norwich just nine months ago and were on a run of just three defeats in 19 matches in all competitions, and, perhaps for those with long memories, had pulled off a shock victory in their last FA Cup tie at Carrow Road, it was Leyton Orient who duly claimed their place in round four.

Midfielder Jimmy Smith, who played nine times for the Canaries during a loan spell three seasons ago without finding the net, was the unlikely hero with a well-placed header from a Dean Cox cross in the 20th minute – unlikely, according to his manager, Russell Slade, since his heading is regarded as a weakness in his game.

Thereafter, it was mostly a case of Orient clinging doggedly to their lead while City huffed and puffed, with goalkeeper Jamie Jones called upon to make only three taxing saves in 90 minutes, one from a team-mate and the others from Wes Hoolahan and Anthony McNamee - in the latter case in stoppage time – but not exactly overworked, such was the excellence of the central defensive pairing of Ben Chorley and Terrell Forbes.

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In making six changes from the 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough five days earlier, City manager Paul Lambert left three of his more combative players on the bench in Michael Nelson, Andrew Crofts and Grant Holt, but it was still a reasonably strong line-up, at least on paper.

Nevertheless, the aggression of Holt, introduced for the final 25 minutes, and Crofts might just have given them extra fire against a team prepared to fight all the way to preserve their lead.

In a very subdued opening, City threatened for the first time when David Fox found Chris Martin on the right side of the penalty area and as Martin cut the ball back from the byline, Chorley almost touched it past his own ’keeper, who grabbed it as it bounced off his body.

With eight minutes gone, Declan Rudd, given a rare outing in goal for City, was brought into action by two ex-Canaries as Smith turned on to Elliot Omozusi’s through-ball and struck a left-foot shot that the ’keeper dived to keep out.

The first corner of the match produced the only goal. Cox played it short from the left corner flag and took a return pass before providing the perfect cross for the unmarked Jimmy Smith to head into the top corner.

City may have had a penalty three minutes later when Hoolahan’s shot, from Chris Martin’s pass, appeared to strike the hand of full-back Charlie Daniels as he dived to block it, but referee Whitestone was unimpressed.

The ailing Omozusi made way for Andrew Whing at right-back after 26 minutes, but Orient’s rearguard was not greatly inconvenienced by the change.

Seven minutes before the break, Hoolahan’s right-foot shot was kept out by a fine save by Jones, diving to his right, after the busy Fox had dived to head the ball into Hoolahan’s path.

But a corner from Daniels almost provided a second goal for Orient when Jonathan Tehoue planted a free header wide of the target.

Defender Forbes came to the rescue for Orient when he blocked Aaron Wilbraham’s shot at the near post just before the interval, and though City attempted to move up the gears in the second half, the final ball was too often lacking.

Fox and Chris Martin both fired wide from the edge of the penalty area and Lambert made changes, introducing Holt and Simon Lappin, then Simeon Jackson, to try to make the breakthrough.

Another volley by Fox was blocked by team-mate Jackson, but as Orient broke quickly, they twice threatened to stretch their lead. Substitute Paul-Jose M’Poku went close with a curling effort from the corner of the penalty area, and Jimmy Smith brought Rudd into action again with an audacious shot from wide on the right touchline that the ’keeper grabbed high to his left.

The last chance went to the Canaries deep into injury time when McNamee’s shot was pushed round the post by Jones, before the celebrations began for the Londoners and 2,000 visiting fans.

Lambert was philosophical about City’s FA Cup exit, clearly with one eye on the Championship visit of Cardiff next week, and said he did not believe his players had been affected by Friday’s free-for-all.

Which is just as well, since the whole episode could have been avoided with a few well-chosen words at nine o’clock in the morning.