Thursday, December 6, 2012
Twitter world came alive just before Norwich City’s game against Sunderland on Sunday when opinions on the FA Cup third round draw dominated.
Footballers pulling numbered balls out of a bag isn’t supposed to be that interesting, but as a colleague said, once the season is underway, the third round of the world’s oldest knockout competition – draw and game – is perhaps the most exciting sideshow.
That the balls handed City a trip to Peterborough United was a massive bonus, for both teams. My personal links with the Posh, which admittedly have withered and faded over the years as work deprived me of the usual pleasures of a Saturday spent on the London Road terraces, prompted a few to suggest this would be the Championship team’s Cup final. The confidence coming out of the yellow and green camp was understandable, given that Posh are struggling to cope with life in the second tier and appear to be odds on for relegation.
But hold ye hard: do not be so cocky. Norwich City fans should know as well as anyone that an FA Cup ‘gimme’ can be a nightmare waiting to happen.
This time, there are many other factors to come into play.
Posh, for example, by the time the tie comes round next month, may already have accepted their fate and be planning for League One football in 2013-14.
Word has it that the London Road suits are on the verge of admitting as much already. But beware the wounded animal and all that – what better way to silence the grumbling fans and to inject possibly the last bit of confidence into your team than upsetting a side from the Premier League? Could it be Darren Ferguson’s last throw of the dice to escape the drop? A win might work wonders ...
Then there is the Villa factor. Paul Lambert brings Villa to Carrow Road next week for a Capital One Cup quarter-final. Both teams could do with the filip of a semi-final place or better; more so, perhaps, the former City manager, whose team could do with the same sort of spark in the top flight that Posh can do in the Championship.
Lambert will arrive revved up for action at his old workplace, even if he says it is “just another game”. Of course it isn’t: I defy anyone to suggest Lambert will treat it that way. Somewhere in his mind will lurk the desire to put one over certain people at Carrow Road.
The outcome will be just as keenly discussed at this end as in Peterborough. If Norwich are beaten, then it makes the FA Cup that little bit more important than it might be if they lose. I am not suggesting managers pick and choose games or tell players that if they don’t win it won’t be too much of a problem – although the awful 4-0 home defeat by MK Dons in the Carling Cup last season did raise more than a few suspicions.
The Capital One Cup semi-finals are due to take place in the weeks beginning January 7 and 21. If City are still in it by then, it makes the first month of the new year hectic, to say the least: the FA Cup third round is on January 5. Win that, and the fourth round is on January 26. There’s also the little matter of Premier League games against West Ham, Newcastle, Liverpool and Spurs. And right now, two of those sides – Newcastle and Liverpool – are in the same region of the table as Norwich. West Ham may well have joined them by then.
Presumably, Peterborough fans will be hoping City roll over Villa next week – assuming the semi-finals of the lesser of the two knockout competitions is more important than the third round of the other.
The proof will come at London Road. Will Chris Martin and Simon Lappin feature? Martin is due back from his loan spell at Swindon on third round day, Lappin returns from Cardiff four days earlier. Perhaps they will be in the shop window along with any others who may be part of the transfer window trading.
The fact is, success in two knockout competitions would mean eight games in January – and that is too much when the over-riding consideration for manager Chris Hughton is Premier League survival.
So Twitter on all those who think the third round is a shoo-in – it’s not quite as cut and dried as you may think.