City boss Peter Grant will send his players out for tonight's Carling Cup clash with Rochdale with one, stark warning ringing in their ears: Remember Stoke…
The Dale may have just Dagenham & Redbridge beneath them in League Two; they may sit 91st among the 92 clubs that make up the Football League and Premiership ladder; they may have picked up only their first point of the season away at Hereford this weekend… but they still dumped Stoke City out of the competition in the first round.
Grant does not want to see another Championship scalp added to their belt tonight.
“They've beaten Stoke,” said Grant simply, after a late goal from midfielder David Perkins forced the tie into extra-time where Rory Prendergast's strike would take the contest into penalties.
Victors 4-2 from the spot, Keith Hill's men will be relishing this evening's opportunity to embarrass their second Championship visitors of the season.
“It doesn't matter that it was on penalty kicks – they've beaten Stoke,” added the Canary boss.
“Stoke are a very, very tough side to play and Rochdale have done that – and by all accounts did very, very well in the game.
“So we know that if we are not on our mettle you'll suffer the same fate – you'll be out of the competition.”
As ever, Grant has done his homework. The City boss is well-versed in the ways of League Two following his coaching spell at Bournemouth and can recognise a side starting to get their act together this season after a tricky start to the new campaign.
“They're finding their legs a little bit. People can start judging people too early when they're saying: 'Well, they've never won this, never won that…'
“But they've had tought games and, by all accounts, done very well again on Saturday with a tough game for them. But we know enough about them; we know the players; we know what to expect.
“But I'm more conscious of what we expect from our own players. We still feel there's a lot of performance still to come from our team.”
Irrespective of the money-earning potential of a ticket to the Carling Cup third round where the real big boys join the fray, victory tonight would spirits-wise set the Canaries up nicely for the back-to-back home games against Cardiff City and Crystal Palace that loom next on the agenda.
Pick up, say, even four points from those two games and eight points from the opening five fixtures and with a third round ticket to the Carling Cup in the bag, Norwich's start to the season would have a nice, solid feel to it.
Nothing spectacular, but solid – important given that the Canaries' next two fixtures are rather more testing with the back-to-back away trips to first Charlton Athletic and then Wolverhampton Wanderers.
With that two-week break for the international games falling straight after this weekend's Bluebirds clash, what no-one wants is a fortnight of navel-gazing should Grant's team stumble.
The fact that he has almost half-a-dozen decisions to make injury-wise tonight – with David Marshall (hip), Adam Drury (groin), Daren Huckerby (groin) and three AN Others all having question marks attached – only ensures that a manager's life is never simple in this neck of the woods.
“It's not ideal – we've been playig fits and starts because of personnel changes. And we've got a few knocks that will maybe leave people struggling to play in the game.
“But, as I say, we'll pick the team that is 100 per cent fit to play the game. And if they're not 100 per cent fit to play, they will not play the game. Apart from Huckerby.”
He, Grant readily admits, is not 100 per cent fit due to his lengthy lay-off this summer with groin trouble.
After completing 55 minutes against Luton Reserves last week, the next Pontins Holiday Combination game is now a fortnight away with the away trip to MK Dons on Monday, September 10 – too distant for a manager and a player that both desperately want to give his competitive game time.
“Where am I going to get him games? I don't know when the next reserve game is and the opposition he's going to be playing against.
“So it's important that he gets game-time. Though his general fitness is very good, it's just his match fitness that he needs to get – which, as I said, he's not had from May 7.”
This time last year and Grant's predecessor Niegl Worthington would be using the Carling Cup as a chance to blood Ricky Martin's kids. Andrew Cave-Brown would make his injury-hit debut at Torquay United; Michael Spillane and Matthew Halliday would also feature at Plainmoor – neither Huckerby nor Robert Earnshaw would travel.
Come the 'Battle or Millmoor' in round two and Huckerby would be out injured anyway, but the policy continued as Robert Eagle, Rossi and Ryan Jarvis featured – Chris Martin would appear on a first team bench for the first time; Earnshaw stayed at home.
Grant, by contrast, is sending everyone to Spotland – he's in it to win it. The competition that is, not just the tie. And if that means extra-time and penalties tonight, so be it.
“If it takes that to win the game, then that's what you've got to do. But we want to win it in 90 minutes.
“And I've said it many times, you go through the same preparation as if we were playing Liverpool, Manchester United or Chelsea,” said Grant, any of whom could await – if the Canaries can just leap over tonight's major banana skin.
“Anyone that has switched off in a cup competition, you've seen a lot of Championship sides go out – and we don't want to be one of those. We want to go as far as we possibly can.
“And to do that we've got to have a group that's very much focussed and knowing that they are going into a very difficult game.”
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