A fine day to sing in the rain

STEVE GEDGE Well, it wasn't exactly a thoroughly clinical and impressive display on Saturday, but I bet Manchester United, Middlesbrough and Stoke would have been delighted with a 4-1 win over non-league opposition in last year's third round rather than having to settle for replays.


Well, it wasn't exactly a thoroughly clinical and impressive display on Saturday, but I bet Manchester United, Middlesbrough and Stoke would have been delighted with a 4-1 win over non-league opposition in last year's third round rather than having to settle for replays.

Norwich played the role of party poopers to perfection at Tamworth. Okay the start was tentative - and we'll be fair and put that down to the conditions as well as the weight of expectancy caused by being overwhelming favourites - and the first goal certainly took a long time in coming, but the second one was pretty much on schedule given City's fitness superiority that visibly knocked the stuffing out of the Lambs.

You could hear the disappointment in the voices of the BBC1 and Radio Five Live commentators. Having talked up the chances of an upset following Tamworth's early chances, once City were four up and out of sight they were reduced to sentiments along the lines of: “Well, of course, this is really what you expect when full-time professionals take on Conference part-timers...” Er, hang on a minute, that wasn't quite what you were saying when John McGrath's early shot tested Paul Gallacher and you sensed the possibility of the Canaries freezing under the shadow of the Tamworth Snowdome...

Yes, there were occasions on Saturday when City's movement and passing was non-existent or predictable; yes, there were times when their central midfield limitations were again painfully exposed against technically limited, though spirited, opposition - but ultimately there was no repeat of the struggle against Dagenham & Redbridge four years ago, and, more importantly, the Canaries actually have an interest in the fourth-round draw.

It's something, no matter how many times you write or say it, which takes a bit of getting used to. Being in the last 32 of the FA Cup - well, it's something that just doesn't happen much in these parts.

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Okay, in 2002 City did feature in the fourth-round draw, but you knew in your heart of hearts that they weren't going to go to Chelsea and win the replay. But apart from then, Norwich have featured just once in the fourth-round draw in the past nine years - in 2003, and even then their participation was by no means assured given that they not only had to make sure the power was on to make a second attempt to host Brighton, but also had to beat a side who had won at Carrow Road in the league barely a fortnight earlier.

No, cruising through the third round at the first attempt with some excellent goals - well, it might be commonplace at other clubs, but City fans will have had an unusual weekend, looking at other ties and thinking:

“We might play them in three weeks' time.”

All things considered, the Canaries came away from the lose-lose tie at the Lamb Ground with the maximum amount of credit possible. Had they lost; well, the consequences are best not thought about, really. Had they squeezed through by a single goal, all the glory and plaudits would have gone to Tamworth.

As it was, however, City made their overwhelming supremacy in key areas count and - though I'm sure it wasn't in Peter Grant's Saturday-morning game plan - allowed the Lambs to enjoy their moment in the spotlight as well with both an early flurry of chances and a spectacular late consolation effort. A goal which, incidentally, you could see being warmly applauded at the away end, though I accept it might have been slightly different had Kyle Storer's strike made it 2 or even 3-1 rather than 4-1.

No, all told it was an experience to be at Tamworth. The Lambs made City work a lot harder than Torquay did in the first round of the Carling Cup and you sensed you were present at a moment of local history. Tamworth organised everything as well as they could, and I will now be watching the bottom of the Nationwide Conference for the rest of the season with added interest, hoping they stay up.

Limited as the facilities were, I don't mind standing in the rain on uncovered terraces at a ground like that, as opposed to the (still) scandalously-bad away area at Portsmouth.

Match days like this just don't come along very often. It might be another 27 years before City are away to a non-league side in the FA Cup again, but by 2034 - given the ever-increasing level of ground-safety regulations being imposed on non-league clubs - stadia like the Lamb Ground might simply not be allowed to host such ties again. (By then you can also imagine professional outfits having a right of veto to avoid having their over-paid and supremely-athletic charges coming into contact with such demandingly sloping and muddy conditions.) However, it's important that Norwich don't consign their experiences on Saturday to the history books to join visiting Yeovil in 1980 just yet.

Take away Tamworth's pronounced pitch slope - which looked to measure quite a few feet from one goal to the other - and then near enough double the size of the crowd plus add a few extra seats and you have Layer Road, Colchester - a ground where, in just under 12 weeks' time City will face the exactly the same sort of David-facing-Goliath pressure as they did at Tamworth knowing that defeat will be just as embarrassing to their fans.

Mind you, they may not have to wait that long. Given Norwich's Carling Cup draw experiences this season - one lower-division away trip followed by another and then, just for a change, a third - I fully expect them to be sent to somewhere like Bristol Rovers or Blackpool today.