Norwich City beating Newcastle is worth more than beating Peterborough United
As one who has always found it hard to accept a less than wholehearted approach from Norwich City to cup competitions – especially their abysmal record in the FA Cup over the past 20 years – I must admit to a certain amount of sympathy for manager Chris Hughton ahead of tomorrow’s third round tie at Peterborough.
Last season’s tame fifth round exit at home to Leicester in front of an expectant full house at Carrow Road was one of the blots on an otherwise very successful campaign, with key players rested at a time when City were cruising fairly comfortably towards Premier League survival.
But Hughton could be forgiven for having other things on his mind when his team visits London Road.
When the third round draw was made last month, the Canaries were seven games into their 10-match unbeaten run. They went on to make it eight later the same afternoon by beating Sunderland and then recorded further victories over Swansea and Wigan to give themselves what appeared to be a comfortable points cushion going into the four Christmas and New Year games.
Of course it was always eminently possible that they would lose all four matches, given the opposition, but now that they have done so there is an inevitable sense of anti-climax and less room for error in the weeks ahead.
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Failure to stem the run of defeats against Newcastle at Carrow Road a week tomorrow might just set a few alarm bells jingling before the trip to Liverpool and the visit of in-form Tottenham complete City’s January programme.
That is not to suggest a collapse of 1985 or, worse still, 1995 proportions is on the cards in the second half of the season, but Hughton knows his team will have to be in the best possible shape for the visit of his former club in eight days’ time.
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At the same time, he and his players have a duty to more than 5,000 travelling supporters tomorrow to try to book their place in the fourth round draw and they cannot afford to take lightly a Peterborough side that has just won four out of five games, winning at Cardiff and Wolves and disposing of another of last season’s relegated Premier League sides, Bolton, in a 5-4 thriller.
It makes team selection more than usually tricky and while there is no doubt where City’s priority lies, Hughton, who won the FA Cup twice as a Tottenham player, admits he cannot make nine or 10 changes tomorrow, as he did in the early rounds of the Capital One Cup.
He said: “I could actually change the whole 11 with what we have available but I won’t because of results and also the fact we have a week’s recovery until the next game against Newcastle, and probably just a feel for the game – the fact we are away.
“In the League Cup campaign our first two games were at home which gave us a slight advantage.
“Irrespective of the fact I will make some changes, I wouldn’t make them if I didn’t feel either a player deserved it or was very close to being in a best eleven for the game last week or the week before.
“We certainly want to go through. We’ve got 5,000-plus supporters going and we want to go through but it’s trying to get the right balance.
“It goes without saying it is not our biggest priority. Our main goal is retaining our Premier League status.
“That is to take nothing away from a very good footballing day. When I say it’s not a priority, that is not to say that any team does not treat it seriously.
“The emphasis is to go through but it is more about our league status. For clubs like ourselves that is a big thing – to make sure we are in the Premier League next season. The Championship has never had as many big clubs in it as now so that shows how much emphasis is on league status. That could also apply to Peterborough. The game has changed.”
It may just be that City’s best chance of a trip to Wembley this season – and arguably for 20 years – was blown with defeat by Aston Villa last month. And given the tendency of big clubs since the late 1980s to monopolise the FA Cup, beating Newcastle may do the Canaries far more good than beating Peterborough.
• THERE ARE TIMES WHEN IT IS NOT ALL TWEETNESS AND LIGHT
It amazes me that football managers do not ban their players from using Twitter.
We live in an age when football clubs like homogenised coverage, where access to players is carefully controlled and most media organisations not designated as “rights holders” get the same player to interview at the same time, and more often than not end up with the same quotes.
Players are given media training and most of them are very careful not to stray off message when in front of a TV camera, microphone, voice recorder, or reporter with notebook.
In the midst of such self-discipline and protection, it seems contradictory that the same players can use social media to air their views on all and sundry.
Much of it is harmless – the minutiae of daily life, dressing room mickey-taking, post-match lunar orbits or poorly parrots – but it is also potentially an easy means of getting into trouble, as Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand and Carlton Cole, among others, have found to their cost.
It was reported that City’s Robert Snodgrass escaped a reprimand for his Twitter comments on referee Mark Clattenburg after the 2-1 defeat at West Ham because players and managers are allowed to criticise refereeing decisions as long as they do not imply bias. But that safeguard didn’t seem to apply when Harry Redknapp and Roberto Mancini were asked to explain recent comments in post-match interviews.
The other risk for players, of course, is innocently divulging the latest injury news that the manager is trying to keep under wraps by revealing that you are at home on the sofa instead of at the team hotel, are shopping in Sainsbury’s with the family, or have just come off the operating table.