Melissa Rudd: Wembley hope has injected some fun back into City’s season
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images
For Norwich City fans of a certain era, the FA Cup has provided some special, if not bittersweet memories.
The famous '59 cup run from the first round to the last four was the stuff of which dreams are made, while two semi-final appearances in the space of four seasons between 1989 and 1992 ultimately ended in heartbreak.
For those of us who didn't start watching City until after then, it's a competition that has almost passed us by. There have been a few fifth round appearances to shout about, but they have come and gone with barely a sniff of a quarter-final. In total, Norwich conceded 13 goals and scored just one over those four ties.
There has been much debate about whether the world's oldest club competition carries the same prestige as it has in decades gone by. Perhaps a good measure of that is whether fans feel they have missed out by not being able to cheer on their side in the latter rounds. I certainly do.
When Paul Lambert's Norwich reached the most recent of those fifth-round ties back in 2012, they did so on the back of a 3-2 win at Swansea which had taken them to eighth place in the Premier League table. City were aiming for a fifth win in seven games and were hot favourites to beat a Leicester side languishing mid-table in the Championship.
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Lambert barely put a foot wrong that season, but his decision to make a handful of changes and leave talisman Grant Holt out of the squad completely on that February day was a huge error. A 2-1 home defeat felt like a massive missed opportunity, especially given his team were 14 points clear of relegation at the time.
Eight years on and instead Daniel Farke's side need all the help they can get in the league, but a surprising win at Burnley has at least reignited that spark of excitement that comes with reaching the last 16 for only the fourth time in 20 years.
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Forgive me for getting carried away, but in a season that looks likely to end in relegation, being two victories away from a day out at Wembley is certainly a reason to be cheerful. While Norwich could have been handed a more favourable tie, they shouldn't fear either Southampton or Tottenham given how close league fixtures against the two sides have been.
The last match against the latter just over a week ago turned out to be a familiar story in that Norwich again played well and should have come away with at least a point, but yet again were defeated,
I've lost count of the times the phrase 'fine margins' has been used to analyse a game in which Norwich have dropped points this season, but it could again be applied at full-time at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
City had their moments, and in the absence of Emi Buendia it was left to Todd Cantwell to try and open up the Spurs defence. When he did so Teemu Pukki failed to even force Hugo Lloris to make a save from 14 yards out.
Pukki may have converted a penalty for the second successive league match, but the Finn has now gone six games without scoring from open play thanks to his stunner against Spurs in the reverse fixture being ruled out. It seems like he has lost the confidence that punctuated so many of his assured finishes from similar positions earlier this season.
While the home side enjoyed the kind of luck that meant Dele Alli's blocked shot looped up to Heung-min Son at the back post for an unmissable tap-in to seal victory, Lukas Rupp's powerful effort that looked destined for the bottom corner was diverted just wide by the faintest of defections.
It's true that City aren't getting the rub of the green, but the fact that Pukki's penalty was their first equalising goal since Cantwell cancelled out Chelsea's opener back in August is a telling statistic given Norwich have conceded first on 11 occasions since.
It is a bad habit that needs to be broken if Norwich are to have any chance of climbing off the bottom of the league, perhaps then a bit more luck might hopefully follow.