Worrying reminder of campaigns past for Norwich City

Michael Bailey Carlisle United 3, Norwich City 1: This time last season Norwich fans were bubbling with stories of the magnificent FA Cup run 50 years ago, of how the 59ers took third division City to within a match of Wembley.

Michael Bailey

This time last season Norwich fans were bubbling with stories of the magnificent FA Cup run 50 years ago, of how the 59ers took third division City to within a match of Wembley.

Last season's Canaries model was supposed to pay homage to those efforts, but failed miserably against Charlton in a Carrow Road replay - which proved enough to signal the end of Glenn Roeder.

So maybe it would be this season's competition that would provide a window to the past? After all, Norwich were in near unbeatable form and rejuvenated under Paul Lambert.

And a window to the past was exactly what we got - sadly, more the listless, lifeless and painful variety Norwich fans have suffered all too frequently in the last four seasons.

Of course, 45 minutes of one football match hardly makes a season, and such laxness has been a long way from the regular servings of Lambert's primed and pumped Canaries.

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But, for the 400-odd City followers - each of whom deserves a giant medal for making the 700-mile round trip to Carlisle for the second time in a matter of weeks - it was a long way from being good enough.

Academy youngster and highly- rated goalkeeping prospect Jed Steer made the first of what will surely be many appearances in the senior City squad - ahead of Michael Theoklitos, who seems no nearer a second chance to make up for 'that' game.

The kick-off brought a blanket of Cumbrian fog that, for one moment, looked set to threaten the match reaching the full 90 minutes - just ask Barnsley boss Mark Robins and he'll tell you how frustrating abandoning a game can be.

Whether the Norwich players were worrying about such an outcome or something else, their heads were clearly in the clouds as United dominated the early stages - some feat considering Greg Abbott's hearty list of absentees.

He named 17-year-old academy defender Steven Swinglehurst on the bench - so little known that even the Carlisle officials seemed unsure of his surname.

Joe Anyinsah had caused Adam Drury a few problems down the United left before he worked the home side's opener; making the most of his space before the impressive Vincent Pericard's acrobatically back-heel volleyed over Fraser Forster on 12 minutes.

Did the former Premier League striker mean it? Probably not. Was he hoping to get something on the cross to direct it at goal? Yes. And for that, it was a cracking finish.

Carlisle kept up the pace, winning every second ball. Veteran midfielder Graham Kavanagh's overzealous challenge on Darel Russell proved their commitment to the cause - and earned the day's only caution from referee Nigel Miller.

But having spent the opening 20 minutes second best, City finally cranked into gear - driven by their star turn, Wes Hoolahan.

The little Irishman probed, prodded and eventually burst through the Carlisle defensive ranks as he created something out of nothing, and Grant Holt produced an excellent finish by flicking home ahead of goalkeeper Adam Collin to level.

From then until the break, normal Norwich service was resumed as City dictated the play and their hosts retreated into their shell - a bank of nine outfield players desperate to keep the home side in the game.

Holt should have marked the period by putting the visitors ahead, but his header back across Collin's goal was wide of the far post from Hoolahan's perfect delivery.

And whatever improvements Norwich took with them into their dressing room at half-time, they left them there for the second half.

It took Carlisle just 14 seconds to retake the lead, Pericard nipping in ahead of Simon Lappin on the left and teeing up Kevan Hurst to confidently finish low to Forster's right.

Unlike at Southampton last weekend, or indeed at any point under Lambert, there appeared little left in the City tank.

Just to clarify to all those trying to watch the game via the FA's streamed internet coverage and Norfolk's creaking broadband network - it probably wasn't just the connection speed that made the Norwich players look stuttering and slow to react.

The inevitable happened on 72 minutes after concerted home pressure. Kavanagh's corner, a statuesque defence and United's rottweiller Richard Keogh free to head home. Game over.

Ian Harte, given a relatively easy time as a makeshift centre-back, could have made it four when he headed over, while City substitute Stephen Hughes finally gave the - by now frozen - City faithful a rare effort on target to ponder, Collin's smart save preventing any late nerves.

But, in all honestly, the groans of the home fans at four minutes of added time spoke more of their insecurities than of any chances of a Norwich comeback.

Regular starter Jens Berthel Askou was missed - he had to stay in Norfolk over the weekend to attend to his sick wife.

In fact, Saturday was the first time City's back four has read Drury, Jon Otsemobor, Michael Nelson and Gary Doherty since the opening day debacle to Colchester - and it showed.

Every side has an off day and, if offered a choice between a Brunton Park victory in the FA Cup or League One, most Norwich fans would bite your hand off for the latter.

But that question might be immaterial if the Canaries fail to put their impotent second-half showing to bed with another three League One points quickly, preferably at Southend tomorrow.

Having endured for 45 minutes on Saturday a glimpse through the window of campaigns past, a return to campaign present is essential.