Norwich City’s FA Cup defeat to Luton Town will echo through the ages
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The little lad was no more than five or six years old, in his matching retro yellow and green hat and scarf.
His granddad held the lad’s hand as they walked along the concourse beneath the City Stand minutes after the final whistle. Approaching the exit, the adult turned to his grandson and said; ‘Things can not get any worse now.’ Certainly not in terms of abject humiliation.
For the boy’s sake, one hopes he is still too young to appreciate the enormity of Norwich’s FA Cup capitulation against Luton Town. A Conference club who arrived at Carrow Road 4,000 strong in travelling support and 85 places adrift in the current pecking order of English football.
The FA Cup is the great leveller, but this bordered on the ridiculous. The temptation, given the prevailing mood after fresh cup embarrassment heaped on lacklustre league form, is to over-dramatise the fall out. Oldham’s superb downing of a Liverpool side who destroyed Norwich the previous weekend and Brentford’s dogged resistance to hold European champions Chelsea yesterday underline how fraught a tightrope knockout cup football remains in this country.
But be in no doubt how this will be portrayed beyond the borders of Norfolk. Norwich City will be a laughing stock. The young fan has plenty of time to reflect as he passes through his teenage years and on into manhood – for this cup-tie and Scott Rendell’s late close-range finish past Declan Rudd will be replayed every time the world famous competition needs to re-assert its giant-killing credentials. A near 25-year gap since Sutton similarly humbled Coventry City should demonstrate how precious, how era-defining these type of occurrences are.
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The FA Cup may be subservient to the Premier League but it is still a competition to cherish on its passage through each fresh generation. The Canaries suffered a brutal reminder just what fuels that longevity; the dream or the nightmare which flattens the playing field on any given afternoon. Those City fans who packed Carrow Road will still scarcely comprehend just what unfolded in their midst.
The loyalists may seek solace in genuine grievances. Technology was employed after the match to construct a viable case Leon Barnett’s scrambled follow up to his own header had crossed the goal line. Lathaniel Rowe-Turner’s blatant handball in the dying embers happened on the blindside of the match officials. Mark Tyler produced two excellent reaction stops in either half on a day the Norwich-supporting keeper will never forget.
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Any of those incidents may have tilted this tie firmly in the hosts’ favour, yet the harsh reality is the battle was lost in City’s fragmented body of work between each of those key talking points.
Hughton’s men were not guilty of a lack of application or desire. Criminally, it was in matching such attributes that Norwich’s perceived gulf in quality would supposedly prove too much for Luton’s honest endeavour. It never materialised; and that is what concerns for the Premier League resumption.
Norwich enjoyed plenty of possession and territorial dominance, but Tyler was forced into two saves of note. Irrespective of the mystical properties of the FA Cup that is hard to digest.
Luton boss Paul Buckle borrowed a sheet or two from his mentor’s play book and conceded ground to establish two impermeable lines that City more often than not lacked the guile or the penetration to pierce. Simeon Jackson’s best chance of the opening period came from an Elliott Bennett ball over the top to utilise the Canadian’s pace. Norwich were routinely pedestrian and predictable. Luton grew in confidence and belief with each passing minute of stalemate.
Hughton and his players will have known what was coming as they slipped away at the final whistle to leave Luton to take the acclaim. But with Tottenham heading to Norfolk in a matter of days there can be little time for recriminations; particularly given Spurs’ own FA Cup tale of woe at Leeds. Victory over north London rivals Arsenal earlier this season memorably triggered that run of resistance which carried Norwich clear of the lowest reaches.
Now would be a prudent time for the planets to re-align and the Canaries to embark on another surge. That sentiment is founded more on hope than expectation - and there is precious little of the former lingering in these parts.
The return of men of substance like Sebastien Bassong, Steven Whittaker and Robert Snodgrass provides one source for optimism. Few if any of those who deputised against the Hatters furthered their cause for greater involvement.
No longer is it about reactions to adversity. That ship has sailed. The theme tune has become rather soulless. It is about personal responsibility.
Buckle made a pertinent point during the build-up when he spoke in glowing terms about Hughton and his seamless transition into the coaching sphere. Buckle saluted a decorated player who had been able to manage himself; to understand his own game and his value to a team. A low-maintenance commodity any manager would value highly.
You can lambast Hughton and his coaching staff for team selections, for how they opt to set up a side to compete, even for how they react when the prevailing currents flow against them during games, but this FA Cup embarrassment was forged from the same seeds as the emphatic 3-0 away win over Peterborough in the previous round. The dissenting voices were silent at London Road. Now the noise is growing ever deafening the longer Norwich fail to arrest this current slide since defeat at West Brom.
You can draw many conclusions from City’s results and performances over the last few weeks. The most worrying aspect is that cohesive, unified body which responded in such stirring fashion to early season set backs appears increasingly a disparate, dispirited collection of individuals.
For that you have to look squarely at the personnel who from this point on in their careers will forever carry the stigma of an FA Cup shock of such brutal magnitude.
The best, the only tangible response they can give is to ensure they do not add a Premier League relegation to their CVs.