Monday, January 7, 2013
One could be forgiven for thinking that somebody up there wants Norwich City to get to Wembley this season.
They were blessed with four home ties in the Capital One Cup before a very plausible route to the final was spurned at the quarter-final stage, and now they have been handed a gilt-edged opportunity to reach the last 16 of the FA Cup for the second year running thanks to a home tie against non-league opposition.
A fourth round pairing with Blue Square Premier side Luton Town will engender a wave of nostalgia for City fans with long memories, as well as producing added media interest in the possibility that the giant-killing Hatters, who did more than just keep the Wolves from door on Saturday, will claim another big scalp in three weeks’ time.
But cut through the bitter-sweet memories and the romance and there is no question that double FA Cup winner Chris Hughton and his City team have a golden chance to take their place in the later stages of the famous old competition.
Any thought that a third round tie away to Peterborough United – a side in much better form in their own division than the Canaries – might prove a banana skin was swiftly dispelled at London Road in what must have been one of the most one-sided matches of the day.
There may have been an element of fortune in the fact that three of Posh’s best players were missing – one suspended, one cup-tied and one on international duty – and that they were clearly missed more than the eight men omitted by Hughton after the defeat at West Ham. But so completely did Norwich dominate proceedings that it may not have made any difference had the absent trio been available. There were 29 places between the two clubs at kick-off but such was the gulf in quality that it might easily have been 129.
Posh boss Darren Ferguson was understandably dismayed by the lack of edge to the contest, which was effectively settled by two goals in the space of 11 first-half minutes.
The hosts, playing in front of their biggest crowd of the season, had a few minutes’ grace at the start, when potential danger man George Boyd’s persistence set up Joe Newell for a shot that was deflected wide off ex-Posh defender Ryan Bennett, and soon afterwards Boyd wasted a useful chance by blazing his shot into the crowd.
But not until the closing minutes, when he had to grab a sharp deflection off team-mate Leon Barnett, was City goalkeeper Declan Rudd troubled again.
The Canaries gradually asserted their authority and Elliott Bennett, one of the eight men recalled and playing almost as a twin striker, went close on 19 minutes when he cut in from the left and his powerful shot was tipped over by ’keeper Bobby Olejnik.
Sure enough, on the half-hour, the goal City had threatened arrived as the same Bennett gave them the lead.
Robert Snodgrass was the provider with some trademark twisting and turning in the Peterborough area, and Bennett reacted first to slide his shot past Olejnik from about six yards.
The goal prompted Posh boss Darren Ferguson to make the first of three early changes by sacrificing defender Craig Alcock in favour of 17-year-old striker Jaanai Gordon, but four minutes before the break, City stretched their lead thanks to two more players enjoying a rare first team outing.
Simeon Jackson latched on to David Fox’s perfect through-ball and coolly lifted it over the advancing Olejnik for his third goal of the season.
City almost made it 3-0 on the stroke of half-time after Newell upended Snodgrass and the winger’s curling free-kick had to be acrobatically tipped over by Olejnik.
There was some wayward shooting at both ends in the second period and one of the few efforts on target, from Elliott Bennett, from all of 35 yards, was comfortably dealt with by Olejnik.
But it was effectively game over with 20 minutes left when the ’keeper was beaten for the third time as Snodgrass slotted home his fifth goal of the season, making him City’s top scorer. An awful pass by Shaun Brisley enabled Elliott Bennett to nip in ahead of Grant McCann and his pass sent Snodgrass clear to tuck a low shot past Olejnik.
His work done, Snodgrass departed to give Jacob Butterfield only his third taste of first team football with City, and the hosts huffed and puffed in the hope of a consolation goal. It never came, although Rudd finally had a save to make as Michael Bostwick and Barnett challenged for a free-kick, before Mark Little, Peterborough’s best performer, struck a powerful effort wide in the final seconds.
The 5,000-plus travelling fans, nearly 40 per cent of the gate, had witnessed only the second win on the road for City this season. They can seldom have seen an easier one.