Don’t tell me the FA Cup doesn’t matter

David Cuffley So it's the Sweet FA Cup for Norwich City once again this year - but do we really care?Well yes, frankly, I do. And I get rather bemused by the argument trotted out by some fans every season that going out of the country's biggest knockout competition doesn't really matter too much.

David Cuffley

So it's the Sweet FA Cup for Norwich City once again this year - but do we really care?

Well yes, frankly, I do. And I get rather bemused by the argument trotted out by some fans every season that going out of the country's biggest knockout competition doesn't really matter too much.

It's true that although more than 800 fans thought their third round replay was important enough to make the 400-mile plus round trip to Bury on a filthy Tuesday night in January, the majority view seemed to be that, given a choice, the 3-1 win at Barnsley last Saturday was far more vital than winning at Gigg Lane.

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It very probably was. Preserving City's status as a Championship club is undoubtedly more important to their long-term well-being than having a decent run in a competition they have no realistic chance of winning, and where even getting beyond the last eight is unlikely. But why does it have to be one or the other? Why not have a decent crack at both?

City had another 19 league games, starting today, in which to secure enough points to stay in this division, and though Glenn Roeder's squad is becoming thinner almost by the day, there is every sign that they will accomplish that task. If they can't manage seven more wins before May, I will be very surprised.

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But one slip in the FA Cup and you're out. And, having got themselves out of jail once with Gary Doherty's equaliser at Carrow Road, City managed to re-offend and throw away the key.

It was worse going to Bury for a replay and losing than it would have been had they simply lost the first match 1-0 - that could have been dismissed as a freak result. But to play a League Two club twice and still not win simply made their early exit more inept. First they looked a gift horse in the mouth and then they packed it off to the knacker's yard.

Bury fought hard in both games and took what few chances they had, but they hardly gave the Canaries a battering.

Their attempts on goal in each match could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

City, in spite of two pretty poor performances, clocked up high double-figures in scoring chances over the two games and had enough opportunities in the last 25 minutes alone at Gigg Lane - after reintroducing three of their Oakwell starting line-up in the second half - to have won the match.

The words “barn door” and “10 paces” spring to mind when thinking of some of City's finishing lately, but if they can rattle in three goals at Blackpool and Barnsley, they should have been well capable of doing so at Bury.

A trip to Southampton next Saturday offered, at the very least, the chance of a replay and a handy cash boost, but now City have a blank weekend to look forward to while their fans cast half an eye over the fourth round results - if they can even be bothered.

The Canaries once had a reputation as great Cup fighters, but they have gone out of the FA Cup at the third round stage in nine of the last 11 seasons.

It is rather like entering your horse in the Grand National every year, knowing it will fall at the first fence.

It is 12 years since they reached the last eight of either of the domestic knockout competitions, when Jan Molby scored in a 2-1 defeat in a Coca-Cola Cup quarter-final replay at Birmingham.

It is that long ago.

There are fans who argue almost every season that is it actually beneficial to get the FA Cup out of the way. Four years ago, it would have interfered with City's promotion challenge.

Three years ago, getting knocked out allowed them to concentrate on the fight for Premiership survival. Similar things were said last year as they faced the threat of a Championship relegation fight, but 6,000 fans still made their way to Stamford Bridge when City reached the fifth round for only the second time since 1995.

There is an appetite for Cup football, especially in a season when the most likely outcome in the league is mid-table security.

A crowd of nearly 20,000 at Carrow Road for the first match against Bury confirmed that.

Millwall demonstrated four years ago that it is possible, with a favourable draw, for a team in this division to reach the FA Cup final - unlikely but possible. But it's not something that is ever likely to occupy the thoughts of Norwich City fans, given that they seldom manage to clear the first hurdle.


The burning question for City 'keepers at Colney must be: “Who is our coach this week, then?”

Since the Canaries showed the door to goalkeeping coach James Hollman, for reasons this open, transparent club has chosen not to explain, the job of finding his replacement has become fraught with difficulty.

Bryan Gunn took on the role in a temporary capacity before it was reported - though never confirmed by City - that Ballymena United manager and former Northern Ireland 'keeper Tommy Wright had been offered the job on a two-and-a-half year contract.

Wright later announced he had turned down the position.

“This has not been an easy decision but after much soul searching I feel I have made the right decision,” said Wright at the time.

“The thought of what I have at Ballymena and not wanting to leave the job unfinished was a deciding factor.”

But a replacement appeared to have been found when it was announced on Monday morning that City had appointed former Wimbledon boss Stuart Murdoch to what he described, on meeting the media, as “an unbelievable situation”.

So unbelievable that, after his first game on duty at Bury on Tuesday night, he was gone by Thursday afternoon after changing his mind for “family reasons”, leaving Gunn holding the bag of balls once again.

If City were hoping this coaching change would attract a minimum of publicity - and they took a fortnight to confirm Hollman's exit with a three-paragraph statement on the club website - the plan has certainly backfired.

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