Blackburn Rovers 3, Norwich City 1

Norwich City's interest in the Carling Cup evaporated last night as Blackburn flexed their Premier League muscles. Both managers made significant changes - seven by City, eight by Rovers - but it's a long way from Norwich to Blackburn.

City are a club working hard to ease their debts - Rovers a club attracting big money takeover talk, rumours of a bid to sign David Beckham and a return to the good old days of Jack Walker, Chris Sutton and league titles.

Perhaps the margin - helped by three goals from on loan Manchester United striker Mame Biram Diouf, with Jens Berthel Askou replying - doesn't reflect the differences off the field, but it was a fair reflection of matters on it as City were beaten but not shamed by top-flight opponents.

City boss Paul Lambert took Wycombe to the semi-finals three years ago when they lost to Chelsea, but last year suffered his first defeat as City manager when the Canaries were beaten 4-1 at home to Sunderland.

City have fared poorly in this competition in recent years - they haven't got past the third round since 1995-96, when they lost a quarter-final replay 2-1 to Birmingham and have been embarrassed by the likes of Cheltenham, Northampton and Port Vale.


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Not that Lambert will mind too much - the Carling Cup is perhaps viewed more as a vehicle for adding some valuable pennies to the coffers than anything else and while the mantra is that a winning habit is hard to break, he will view Saturday's trip to Nottingham Forest as more important to the season's ambitions.

One look at the team sheets shows just how much managers need to balance their staffing “books” - keeping fringe players happy and match fit while at the same time not weakening starting line-ups to the extent of disrespecting not just the competition, but the club's own supporters.

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Blackburn perhaps look at the competition in a different light, with European football the reward for the winners: since they won the Worthington Cup version in 2002, they have reached the semi-finals three times and the quarter-finals on two other occasions.

City centre-half Michael Nelson missed out with an ankle injury, Askou coming in, while there were also starts for keeper Declan Rudd, midfielders Matt Gill, David Fox and Simon Lappin, striker Simeon Jackson and young George Francomb at right back, with Russell Martin switching to right back in place of Adam Drury.

Blackburn, with Saturday's home game against Arsenal in mind, made eight changes from the side which lost at Birmingham on Saturday.

Rudd took an early catch to ease any nerves he may have had - but he frustrated Lambert when he needlessly gifted Rovers possession with an ill-advised kick, which led to two corners in quick succession for the hosts, a miskick in front of goal by Diouf and a scuffed shot by Gael Givet.

Rudd redeemed himself by taking Morten Gamst Pedersen's cross off the head of Diof as play became more and more concentrated in City's half.

Elliott Ward did well to block Amine Linganzi's effort for a corner as a Rovers cross created problems,

When City did break they did it well, Wes Hoolahan leading the charge, but Grant Holt miskicking on the edge of the box and Fox hitting a volley well over.

Rudd parried a Pedersen glancing header as Rovers responded - moments later Mark Bunn did exactly the same as Holt connected well with a Lappin free-kick from the right. It sparked a good spell for City, although the Rovers backline was proving difficult to breach. Jackson almost did it when he chased a long ball from Francomb, but Bunn slid out well to claim possession.

But Rovers were well on top and their authority was confirmed on 29 minutes when Pedersen's long throw from the right was flicked on by skipper Chris Samba - and Diouf was unmarked at the far post to nod it over the line - far too simple. It's easy to blame inexperience, but had Martin been at right back the marking might have been better.

City rocked for a few minutes, with big claims for a penalty when Samba went crashing in a packed area, but they quickly consolidated as the match levelled put a little.

Fox hooked another one wide after good build-up work five minutes before the interval and Holt forced keeper Bunn to take a cross destined for Jackson's head as City enjoyed some good possession around the home area: it may not have brought a goal but City looked a lot more confident.

Their best moment came a minute before the break when Jackson produced a low left-footer out of nothing which Bunn turned around his right-hand post.

HALF-TIME: Blackburn Rovers 1, Norwich City 0

City took that confidence into the second half, Holt shooting straight at Bunn, although at the other end Rudd's decision to come out of his area to head away a long ball almost ended in disaster when Diouf beat him to it, only to nod the ball wide - and leave himself with a headache.

Rovers weren't having things their own way, and Holt came close to equalising on 68 minutes with a lovely glancing header at the near post from Fox's corner, which forced Bunn into an acrobatic save. It was Holt's last contribution, with Lambert making his first chances - Oli Johnson coming on up front and Anthony McNamee replacing Hoolahan.

It was perhaps an indication of where the match was going - the departure of arguably City's most influential players left a single goal deficit looking less likely to be recovered.

There was a wake-up call soon after when Linganzi volleyed against Rudd's right-hand post - and a full alarm was sounded when Diouf was left embarrassingly unmarked for a Pedersen free-kick, but, from six yards, somehow missed the target and headed against the bar. Diouf then failed to find the target from close range after a corner as City rocked again.

The goal was leading a charmed life, but something had to give, and it gave way on 80 minutes when Rudd did well to deny Pedersen at close range, but Diouf managed to knock the ball over the line, despite Askou's best efforts.

City's defence was clearly tiring, with the middle two under increasing pressure - and Pedersen set up Diouf for his hat-trick on 84 minutes with an exquisite cross which the striker buried at the far post to make it a dream first start since his move from Old Trafford.

City looked to be out of luck when Bunn brilliantly kept out Stephen Hughes' shot, but from the resulting corner Askou got the goal that he and City deserved.

RESULT: Blackburn Rovers 3, Norwich City 1

 

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