2014 it may be, but the problems of 2013 linger. No successful New Year resolutions for Ricky or Johan.
Instead City acquired themselves the one thing they didn’t want – an FA Cup replay to be squeezed in between crucial league games against Everton (a) and Hull City (h).
No lack of effort or intent – and for once Chris Hughton’s formation met with *almost* universal approval – but even an attack-minded 4-3-3 failed to prise a win out of our tormentors extraordinaire (have I mentioned we haven’t beat Fulham since 1986?).
City’s much changed line-up was symptomatic of the approach of most Premier League clubs to the ‘world’s greatest cup competition’ and in truth the whole afternoon lacked the feel of an FA Cup match. Carrow Road was as subdued as I have seen it this season and despite the best efforts of The Cottagers’ travelling support (never thought I’d say that) the occasion was more pre-season friendly than pulsating cup-tie.
Having said that City did play some decent football which was probably due in no small part to the inclusion of David Fox; recently returned from his loan spell at Barnsley. His range of passing was certainly on the button from the word go and I expect Prozone to tell us his successful pass percentage was in excess of anything we have witnessed in recent weeks.
This was helped of course by the game’s relatively low tempo, and also because there was no Parker/Sidwell combination snapping at his heels every time he had the ball, but there is no denying the quality of distribution from the centre of the pitch was as good as it’s been all season.
The big question is whether Fox can replicate that successfully amidst the intensity of your average Premier League match – not easy when you have a Toure or a Gerrard breathing down your neck – but given City’s inability to keep the ball of late it’s certainly worthy of consideration.
On the day, his sponsors’ man-of-the match award was thoroughly deserved and the exquisite through ball mid-way through the first-half that ended with Stockdale palming Ricky’s shot round the post was right out of the top drawer.
For what it is worth I think he deserves a shot, although his loan spell suggests Team Hughton thinks otherwise. Given the number of current injuries, if he is not going to feature in the next few weeks he is unlikely to feature at all. Time will tell…
The formation itself was an interesting one and had a more fluid, modern look than the rigid 4-4-2 that has been used in recent months.
The narrow three in midfield certainly provided more passing options when in possession – particularly when the full-backs were willing to ‘join in’ – although Javier Garrido in the left-hand berth did strike me as a square peg in a round hole. Ditto every time poor Johan Elmander picked the ball up right on the right and was faced one-on-one with a full-back to beat.
But, in fairness, these were minor qualms with a formation that struck me as an ideal Plan B.
Aside from the aforementioned Mr Fox there were a few other performances worthy of note. Josh Murphy’s overall contribution was eye-catching and his part in City’s goal will likely stay with him for the rest of his career. After several useful cameos it was fitting he should be handed a start and he did enough to suggest there will be more to come.
Hansen, Townsend and every other cliche-ridden pundit are constantly reminding us that defender hate facing attackers with pace. Well the Murphy twins have it in spades.
Despite it not being a blood and guts cup-tie it remained an interesting afternoon – one that prompted a few talking points – and true to form BBC Radio Norfolk’s Canary Call served up a classic. Expertly handled as always by Rob Butler, and with an eloquent City legend in the form of Darren Eadie as his wing-man, the pair had to fend off all sorts of incredulity on the phone-in.
Aside from the usual moans, groans and occasional upbeat comments the duo had to bite their tongues when a bloke came on air ranting about RvW. Apparently the Dutchman wanders around with hardly a care in the world and “clearly doesn’t want to be here”.
While I am clearly no expert, of many accusations that can be leveled at the Dutchman, lack of effort most certainly is not one of them. Lack of hunger in front of goal maybe; dropping off too deep at times perhaps; but lack of effort? Don’t think so.
If that was not bizarre enough, the call the followed culminated with a City supporter of “over sixty” years threatening to go and support that small club to the south. However his reason for this absurd threat was one that is close to all our hearts – the prospect of Wes Hoolahan leaving us to be reunited with Paul Lambert at Aston Villa.
A story that appeared in the Daily Mirror on Saturday morning suggested that the ruddy-faced one has made a £1.5million bid for the little Irishman – one that has understandably rattled plenty of Canary cages.
The claim makes little sense on many levels – not least the fee and club involved – but Hughton’s less than convincing denial in post-match conversation with Chris Goreham did little to appease a Canary nation that would be distraught at the thought of losing Hoolahan to anyone, let alone Aston Villa.
If one of Wes’s final City performances does turn out to be that virtuoso performance against Manchester United it would be a travesty, not least because it highlighted what he still has to offer.
Hopefully this one – in Andy Townsend terms – will be next week’s fish and chip paper, but to threaten to defect to *that lot* if it were to happen is plainly ridiculous (although may be the only way to boost their meagre crowds).
So, an eventful afternoon for several reasons – and 21000 plus inside the old place is not to be sniffed at – but not your FA Cup third-round day of old. I think those days have gone.