Norwich City crash out of FA Cup

Norwich City were dumped out of the FA Cup by Leicester City on Saturday. This defeat hurt the fans, and I hope it hurt the players too.

It was an unexpected defeat at home, to a side 13th in the Championship table, and cost the Canaries a place in the last eight, an opportunity to win silverware and glory, and a chance to make up to �1million in prize money, television revenue, and gate money. In truth the Foxes fully deserved to win. They played well, Norwich played badly, and we should do no more than grit our teeth, shake their hands, and wish them well in the sixth round away against Chelsea or Birmingham.

The soul searching and hand wringing will no doubt be part of the inquest at Carrow Road in the coming week. Among the key questions to be asked are whether our team is really as good as we think it is, whether the Canaries were too complacent in assuming they would walk over a Championship side at home, whether it was right to give Holt, Ruddy and Surman a break, and whether the FA Cup matters when we have perhaps a more important priority in ensuring our Premier League survival.

Jed Steer played in goal, as he had in the last round of the cup, and captain and talisman Grant Holt was given a day off, maybe to prevent him picking up another yellow card, or perhaps rested to keep him fresh for the Man United game next week. How the Canaries missed him. In his absence Morison and Jackson started up front with Bennett, Fox, Hoolahan and Pilkington in midfield. In the continuing absence of Ayala and Whitbread through injury, Martin, Ward, Barnett and Drury made up the back four.

Leicester opened brightly and won four corners in quick succession. From their fourth corner, and with only five minutes gone, St Ledger headed the Foxes in front. Norwich equalised after 23 minutes when they were awarded a penalty after keeper Schmeichel was adjudged to have fouled Bennett. The keeper did well to save Hoolahan’s penalty kick but could only parry it and was powerless to stop the Irishman’s follow up shot. Leicester claimed that the penalty should not have been awarded as their keeper played the ball, and they were even more aggrieved a few moments later when at the other end Ward chested away Morgan’s back heel. Leicester’s players protested in vain that the ball had crossed the line but the referee was unmoved.

The Canaries upped their game in the second half and Barnett twice went close. Martin might have scored with a header but Konchesky was able to clear. After 62 minutes Lambert replaced Jackson and the disappointing Morison with Wilbraham and Vaughan. It was Vaughan’s first appearance since seriously injuring his knee against Sunderland, but there was to be no fairytale ending for him. Nugent scored an excellent goal for Leicester with 19 minutes to go, running with the ball from his own half before finishing coolly. And the much maligned Beckford might have added another goal at the death but hit the post.

So the dream is over. A cup run which promised so much has fizzled out and delivered very little. City can now concentrate firstly on amassing sufficient points to ensure that they are mathematically safe from relegation from the Premier League, and then on finishing as high in the table as they can.

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Mr Lambert has always (and in my view correctly) insisted that maintaining our Premier League status is our major objective this season. A win in the league encounter with Manchester United on Sunday would definitely banish the spectre of this cup defeat. Norwich games against United are usually exciting and the result is by no means a foregone conclusion. And we have the added spice of two opposing Glaswegian managers, one from the Celtic half of the divide and one from the Rangers side.

Spare tickets for this match are already more scarce than goals scored by Fernando Torres this season. Let battle commence….and Come on you Yellows