First-half strikes from Darren Bent and Ashkan Dejagah and a killer third from Steve Sidwell booked Fulham an all-too easy place in the fourth round of the FA Cup tonight with a 3-0 replay win over a typically toothless Norwich side.
Try as he might, City boss Chris Hughton cannot find a cutting edge to his outfit and with huge games looming back in the Premier League, that would continue to have the alarm bells ringing.
The fact that the January transfer window has – thus far at least – failed to deliver someone to shoulder that particular burden will continue to rile sections of the Canary supporters as the Norfolk side struggle to make occasional periods of possession count.
Goals win games. Without goals, any team will struggle to win games. It is as simple and straight-forward as that.
Throwing one up front from the start will also have got the arm-chair tacticians going. But for a bright opening ten minutes, Norwich were ponderous and predictable up front and duly reaped what they sowed.
Bent once again came to haunt Norwich’s cup progress with another smart strike from the centre of the City area as he showed certain players how.
Though the one-time Town youngster could have been closed down that much quicker, the real damage came via Pajtim Kasami’s initial run deep to the byline and the angled cross into the danger zone that then followed.
The goal had the expected effect of dampening Norwich’s enthusiasm for the night’s events; this was a replay that both clubs could have done without – a fact borne out by Hughton’s team selection with a return for the likes of David Fox and Johan Elmander.
Ricky van Wolfswinkel had to settle for a place on the bench; Gary Hooper had an evening off altogether.
The two teenagers – Nathan Redmond and Josh Murphy – were handed the chance to let rip on either flank; their early momentum being nipped in the bud by Bent’s 16th minute strike. It would be a long night for the travelling City faithful.
Their ‘hopes’ of a fourth round trip to Sheffield United effectively ended five minutes before the interval when Fulham walked a second into the net.
Or if they didn’t walk it, they certainly doubled their advantage all-too easily as a perfectly weighted ball in behind a flat City back four found Alexander Kacaniklic onside and rolling the ball across the face of Mark Bunn’s goal for Ashkan Dejagah to lift into the roof of the net.
If this was the 45 minutes in which Fulham as a dressing room – if not a team – responded to the weekend’s 4-1 home defeat by Sunderland, then they had delivered. With all-too little by way of resistence from their visitors.
Elmander – not for the first time this season – cut something of a lonely and listless figure up top. After two early chances, the Canary striker found pickings very thin. The best moment remained that of Robert Snodgrass who rattled the bar within the opening three minutes as City started briskly enough only to fade as Fulham found their feet.
The arrival of van Wolfswinkel at the break to finally give Elmander some company lifted both City’s spirits and game a touch even if the scoreline stubbornly refused to budge.
Both teams weren’t quite going through the motions, but the contest was hardly blood and thunder.
Fulham – not unreasonably – felt as if they had already done enough; they could see this one out safely enough.
And as much as Norwich upped the tempo of their game, Fulham were rarely overly stretched. In fact they were more than happy to just gently push the ball about and let the Canaries chase.
Midway through the second period and Sidwell wrapped up proceedings with a strong, far post header. Nominally, Fox was marking him but the City’s midfielder’s lack of physicality was there for all to see as Sidwell threw off his challenge and powered the third goal home.
Elmander disappeared; Luciano Becchio arrived. Two players with a lot in common goals-wise.
As they have with van Wolfswinkel who had another half-chance blocked at the far post as the Canaries looked to get something out of the game – even a goal. Just one.
Wolfswinkel would leap highest to meet an 88th minute free-kick from Fox, but his header was weak and well off target.
This wasn’t the player that buried that firm header against Everton on the opening day of the season with such promise and aplomb.
The confidence has gone. As it has with your Becchios and your Elmanders.
Right now, only the absent Hooper appears to have the kind of belief any striker needs when opportunity knocks.
And that is the big, big worry as the Canaries ‘concentrate on the league’ again following yet another early cup exit.