Preston 2 Norwich City 0
10:26 04 January 2015
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Norwich City tamely exited the FA Cup at the third round stage for the second consecutive season in a desperate 2-0 defeat at League One promotion hopefuls Preston.
Paul Gallagher’s second-half brace consigned the Canaries to another miserably brief flirtation with the world-famous competition after a lacklustre display from Neil Adams’ squad in Lancashire.
Adams opted to make just four changes to the starting line up that lost 2-1 in the Championship at Reading last weekend but City were no less weak defensively or pitiful in attack as they had been at the Madejski.
Declan Rudd had to content himself with a place on the bench against the club he spent last season on loan with John Ruddy’s selection underlining Adams’ commitment to putting out a side of senior professionals.
Ignasi Miquel made his second start of his Norwich career in place of Martin Olsson who along with Alex Tettey were not considered for FA Cup duty after undergoing injections earlier in the week to treat persistent knee complaints.
Michael Turner returned to the line up for the first time since November 29 alongside Ryan Bennett in central defence with captain Russell Martin dropping to the bench.
Nathan Redmond slotted into a midfield populated by skipper for the day Bradley Johnson, Gary O’Neil and Jonny Howson, with Wes Hoolahan supporting Gary Hooper.
Cameron Jerome was ruled out through illness and Lewis Grabban was also an absentee with the striker a pre-match doubt with an Achilles problem. Kyle Lafferty was fit for a place on the bench following similar concerns over a thigh issue alongside Jamar Loza, Javier Garrido and Conor McGrandles.
Preston chief Simon Grayson kept veteran striker Kevin Davies on the bench for the Lilywhites, where there were also places for Jermaine Beckford and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake following his midweek loan move until the end of the season.
Preston looked confident in a bright start to the tie, befitting a side on an eight-match unbeaten run, but City worked the first pocket of space down the left when Miquel fed Hoolahan but his cut-back was cleared by Bailey Wright.
Josh Brownhill tested Ruddy in the ninth minute with a sighter from long range after Kyle Reid had escaped down the Preston left to whip in a cross Miquel could only half-clear.
Central midfield partner Alan Browne then slammed a shot at Turner from similar range with Preston looking to exploit any space in front of the Norwich back four.
Bennett’s glancing flick from Gary O’Neil’s deep free kick ran away from Hoolahan but the lack of precision from the visitors illustrated the sedate tempo to the first quarter with Preston growing in confidence despite Norwich’s controlled possession.
Steven Whittaker’s weak attempted clearance momentarily encouraged Andy Little but Turner eased the North End frontman under the bouncing ball inside his own area.
Turner was alert again in the 26th minute to foil Reid at the far post who unleashed a first time snapshot after Miquel’s header dropped invitingly to the wideman.
Johnson tried to inject some dynamism into City’s weak offering for the opening 30 minutes when he burst into the Preston box but the cut-back was a yard behind the unmarked Hooper lurking in the vicinity of the penalty spot.
Hooper’s heavy first touch then blew a promising chance for Norwich in the 32nd minute when he failed to control Howson’s clever reverse pass with plenty of space to race clear and test Thorsten Stuckmann. The striker’s mournful look towards the assistant who had kept his flag down merely compounded the forward’s frustration.
Preston players had loud penalty appeals turned down flat in the 38th minute when Gallagher’s cross struck Howson before spiralling away for a corner.
Hoolahan was penalised for handball a yard outside his own area but Jack King’s glancing header from Gallagher’s driven set piece drifted wide.
The Irishman and Hooper combined sharply at the opposite end to free Redmond who tricked his way past Buchanan but Howson miscued his half-volley at the far post.
Adams resisted any urge to make changes at the interval and Preston started positively again on the resumption with Reid causing Whittaker a few problems before Turner headed away underneath his own bar.
City sprang a rare counter in the 50th minute with Howson and Hoolahan picking out Johnson but the deliberate lob from 20 yards sailed over.
Norwich appeared to be pressing much higher up the pitch with City’s Irish schemer now operating much closer to Stuckmann. One slaloming burst across the face of the Preston penalty box was eventually ended by a posse of white shirts crowding out the Dubliner.
Little planted Buchanan’s cross wide before making way just past the hour mark for Beckford. Redmond then cut in off the right to test Stuckmann with a swinging shot that veered beyond the Preston keeper’s far post.
Adams introduced Lafferty for Hooper approaching the final quarter after the experiment with Hoolahan failed to fire before Josh Murphy replaced the Irishman.
City fell behind in the 71st minute when Miquel was beaten in the air by King at the far post and Gallagher arrived to crash a low shot from 10 yards out underneath Ruddy.
Norwich were unable to muster an immediate response to fresh adversity with Whittaker’s cross claimed comfortably by Stuckmann and both Redmond and Murphy unable to get on the front foot.
Redmond did pick out his wing twin in the 83rd minute but Whittaker’s first-time shot slammed against the body of Calum Woods.
Loza replaced Miquel a minute later with Adams going for broke but within seconds City were two adrift when Gallagher was left unattended to rifle past Ruddy again after Beckford retrieved the ball to feed Reid.
The Canaries forced a series of late corners but never threatened to get back into the tie in another abject cup showing after the earlier season Capital One Cup exit at Shrewsbury.
• Preston: Stuckmann, Woods, Wright, Huntington, Buchanan, King, Brownhill (Humphrey 63), Browne, Gallagher, Reid (Ebanks-Blake 86), Little (Beckford 64). Subs (not used): Jones, Clarke, Kilkenny, Davies.
• Booking: King (foul on Johnson, 76)
• Goals: Gallagher (71, 85)
• Norwich: Ruddy, Whittaker, Bennett, Turner, Miquel (Loza 84), Redmond, Howson, O’Neil, Johnson, Hoolahan (Josh Murphy 71), Hooper (Lafferty 69). Subs (not used): Rudd, Martin, Garrido, McGrandles.
• Booking: Bennett (foul on Beckford, 74)
• Added on time: 0 minutes / 4 minutes
• Referee: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire)
• Attendance: 9,807 (1,099 away fans)