Norwich City face FA Cup balancing act

Norwich City must strike a balance between trying to reach the FA Cup fourth round and protecting key members of the squad when they play host to Leyton Orient on Saturday.

They go into their third round tie against the League One side at Carrow Road (3pm) with a long list of players likely to be sidelined through injury – and one further absentee in midfielder Owain Tudur Jones, who is cup-tied.

The Wales international made his first start for the Canaries for 14 months in the 1-1 Championship draw at Middlesbrough on Monday, but will not be eligible to face Orient as he has already played in the competition this season, featuring in Yeovil’s 1-0 first round win at Rushden & Diamonds when he was on loan to the West Country club.

Better news for manager Paul Lambert is that new striker Aaron Wilbraham is available for FA Cup duty because he did not figure in either of MK Dons’ matches against Stevenage in the first round.

But the casualty list remains lengthy with Wes Hoolahan’s groin injury, which kept him out of the game at Riverside Stadium on Monday, making him the latest addition to names including David Fox, Henri Lansbury, Elliott Ward and long-term absentees Stephen Hughes, Steven Smith and Andrew Surman. Lambert said earlier this week that Fox had probably the best chance of a recall at the weekend after missing two matches with a calf injury.

The City boss must also juggle the need to keep his players fresh after three games in seven days over Christmas and New Year with the need to take advantage of a winnable home tie and book a potentially lucrative draw in the last 32 of the competition.

Despite a 5-0 thrashing at Brighton on New Year’s Day, Orient have been beaten just three times in the last 19 matches in all competition, so cannot be taken lightly. They also won the last meeting between the two clubs in League One last April, a 2-1 success that briefly held up the Canaries’ march to promotion.

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The O’s very nearly went out of the FA Cup in round two when they trailed 2-0 to non-League Droylsden late in the replay at the Matchroom Stadium before storming back to win 8-2 after extra time in a match that ended with nine players per side.

City desperately need to improve their record in the competition after getting beyond the third round only three times in the past 15 seasons.