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.
Dave B says
“more than anything we wanted to stay in this cup competition”
Didn’t look like it.
As a staunch defender of Hughton up to now, I can’t help but feel that he lacks the necessary inspiration to drive this team forward. On paper, our squad is much improved since we were first promoted, but there seems to be no understanding, no chemistry and most importantly, no fight. We need to be getting the best out of our top players- let us not forget that Leroy Fer was on the brink of joining an Everton side now placed 5th in the Premier League not so long ago, whilst RVW was a one-time Manchester United target (apparently). Added to the likes of Redmond, Olsson, Bassong, Snodgrass and Hooper, we have a number of players, signed by Hughton, that should be excelling under him. We look every bit a push-over at the moment- we are both timid and dull. Something surely needs to be done to stop the rot…
I was really pleased when Hughton arrived and have been very reluctant to join in with an unthinking attitude to every set back. BUT if we genuinely wanted to come back in that game tonight it was obvious to anyone with a bit of football nous that Murphy and Fox were very much out of their depth but they stayed on, probably for other reasons. More crucially the team lacked any confidence that they could keep the ball under pressure despite Johnson’s, Snodgrass’s and Ricky’s best efforts and that smacked of lack of belief and a recognised pattern of play in the whole side. I really don’t want to be an ‘outer’ but 40 years of being part of our lovely club has taught me that we definitely need a Delia’s Barmy Army revival at the moment. C’mon thet’s do somethin diffrent!
james d says
The main positive us most of the players won’t get a look in come Saturday. What last night showed we those calling for Becchio,fox and Murphy to get game time are wrong. Becchio looked far too disinterested for someone lacking game time and trying to put himself in the shop window. Murphy took 86 minuets to get a cross in the box. He struggled to beat his men all night. Fox struggled to play many balls that weren’t sideways or backwards. His defending for the goal was woeful. He may no attempt to head the ball, mis judged the flight of the ball and lost his man.
The mistake from last night’s game wood be to decide anything about Hughton. It’s far from our worst cup exit in recent years. Luton last season and MK Dons under the lambert the year before were far worse.
The one hope we have is Tettey, Pilkington, Guiterrez and Hooper all come into the squad for Hull as well as Fer, Bennett, Ruddy and Hoolahan all being fresh from not playing last night.
I wasnt upset we went out or in the manner that we did, I’m just pleased there aren’t new injuries to key players.
I am a season ticket holder and live in London, yet I didn’t even think about going to Craven Cottage. The most worrying thing about last night is that I wasn’t even that bothered about the result. I have little interest in going to away games now. He is a nice guy and an experienced Football man, but sadly he is slowly ruining the interest of fellow supporters with this negative approach to Football matches. When you can’t be bothered to beat a non league team at home, what hope do we have of beating a Premier League club who are now 15 games unbeaten against us away?
Thanks Chris, you are a nice guy but it just hasn’t worked out.
Thomas Tuchel for me.
Russell S. says
I’m not sure what I’m more surprised and shocked at – (1) Messi’s red suit, (2) Holt going to Villa or (3) anyone thinking we’d win at Fulham – our no.1 bogey side.
If we get 3 points on Saturday, that defeat last night won’t mean a thing.
Our pre-season tour in the U.S. has set the tone,it’s as if poor performances and losses have no
consequences.On current form a loss to Hull is likely but overtly no one seems that bothered,certainly not the players who are clearly dis-interested.
Dave B says
@4 james d
Of course Becchio looked disinterested. He’d been put on at 3-0 down away with 20 mins to go. He’s not exactly being allowed to shine.
I really have no idea what Hughton is doing tactically. Against Palace, in the most abysmal of conditions perfect for longball he plays Wes, the magician. Against Everton he plays two upfront, but then expects them to be supplied by a defender on the wing and no link up player. Yesterday in a game “We want to win more than anything” he puts up a lone striker (who can’t score) and plays three wingers.
I’m not an expert football tactician, but even I know there’s something amiss.
I was also offrered a ticket to Fulham away but having seen us play so poorly against them twice alreday this season, I couldnt be bothered.
We are stumbling cluelessly back into the championship unless we can find a new manager to motivate the players in the next couple of weeks.
If last night showed anything it’s that we don’t have a squad full of worthy Premier League players, those on the fringes simply aren’t good enough.
We’re also too predictable in attack, we have an obsession with wing play, particularly down the right, where neither Snoddy or Whittaker, for all their endeavours, looked remotely capable of putting in a decent cross. There was no threat through the middle, either from midfield or attack. For all our possession, especially in the second half, we never really looked like scoring.
It’s been a long time since I’ve heard our fans chanting for the manager’s head during the game, it’s not nice, but I can hardly apportion blame given the turgid fare on offer!