Canaries academy product sets his sights on Premier League scalp in the FA Cup
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Ahead of a big FA Cup opportunity, David Freezer caught up with former Norwich City forward Jamar Loza, as Woking prepare to try and pull off a third round giant-killing against Premier League opposition.
Jamar Loza got a taste for the big time at Norwich City – and tomorrow the forward has another chance to shine on the national stage.
The 24-year-old forward is a key part of the Woking squad preparing for the non-league club's biggest game in over 20 years, when they welcome Premier League side Watford to the Kingfield Stadium.
BT Sport are showing the game from the sold-out 5,700 capacity stadium live, as they try to sniff out a traditional FA Cup third round giant-killing from a team currently flying high in National League South.
Canaries academy product Loza has been an integral part of that success since joining on loan from Maidstone in October, scoring seven goals in 11 games.
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'Obviously we've got to be really, really lucky and hope they have an off game,' the Jamaica international said ahead of the cup tie. 'We've got to bring our A game, which I'm sure everyone will because we all know what's at stake.
'So we'll all be putting literally everything on the line to try and get a result. It's going to be a big ask but everyone will be giving 110 percent, that's for sure!'
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Woking had to get past three qualifying games to reach the first round, where Loza's pace won the penalty at Torquay from which Max Kretzschmar scored the only goal to beat their National League South promotion rivals 1-0.
The Cards then repeated the trick in the second round, when Jake Hyde's goal sealed a shock 1-0 win away to League Two side Swindon Town.
'I don't think anybody expected us to win but as a team we were set very well to counter-attack,' Loza added. 'So we soaked up a lot of pressure and had a good break, then sat back and got a famous win for the club.'
Since then Woking have won all five of their league matches, to sit second in the table, two points adrift of Torquay but with two games in hand, with the forward's pace again winning a penalty as Alan Dawson's team won 3-0 at Hampton & Richmond on New Year's Day.
Having come through the academy at Norwich as a striker – once scoring five goals for the U21s in a 7-2 thrashing of Southampton at Carrow Road – Loza has been mostly playing as a winger, but has scored seven goals in 11 games during his loan spell.
'My loan was due to expire on Saturday and obviously the game is on Sunday, so I've added another month to my loan, so I'm here until February now,' he continued.
'Since I've come I've started enjoying my football again, I've started playing freely and enjoying it very much. Obviously we've got a chance of being promoted so I see myself staying until the end of the season.
'I've been playing on the wing, I have had one or two games up front but mainly on the wing. It's a great opportunity for me to try and maintain my form – and if I can get a goal against a Premier League club I'm sure it won't do me any harm!
'I am a striker naturally but with my (lack of) height, I think a lot of managers think it's quite hard to put me in that position, so I do get put out wide quite a lot, and because of my pace I can do that and that does help that I can do that as well.'
Loza was with Norwich from the age of 15 and, after a League Two loan spell at Southend, made his debut as a 20-year-old as a substitute in a Premier League game against Arsenal in May 2014, as City lost 2-0 at Carrow Road as their relegation fate was confirmed under Neil Adams.
'Looking back I think it was more exciting than anything, that was all I'd ever wanted to do, make my debut in the Premier League,' the former Canaries hopeful said.
'So when I got that chance I don't even think nerves came into my head, I just wanted to get on the pitch and do as well as I could.
'With the new manager coming in, he wanted to go quite experienced with a lot of strikers, so it was quite difficult for me getting a look in.'
Five further appearances followed before being released in 2016 – including a memorable injury-time goal to save a 2-2 draw at Huddersfield in March 2015, helping to keep Alex Neil's team on course for promotion.
'That was one of the highlights of my career so far,' Loza reflected. 'There were loads of injuries at the time and they told me I might have a chance of playing.
'I was just so excited and I just wanted to prove to people that I could play at that level. Thankfully I got the goal which got us a draw.'
Nine goals and six assists from 24 National League games made for a good start to life with Maidstone in 2016-17 but ankle surgery held up that progress last season.
Loza continued: 'I started on fire at Maidstone and then the second season I had a big injury and I had to have an operation at the start of the season.
'I came back in November and was just playing catch up through the whole season basically and wasn't really the same, it took a while for me to get back into it.
'So this season I kind of started fresh, worked on my fitness and I feel much better.
'It was really hard after Norwich, people in football forget really quickly, so if you don't have a good end to the season or whatever then you become almost a nobody and have to start again, which I tried to do at Maidstone.
'I've been trying to build my way back up and I think at Woking I've found a home so far.'
Now the focus is all on Watford though, with the Hornets arriving sat in an impressive eighth place in the Premier League, with a squad packed full of international talent.
Woking reached the second round of the FA Cup in each of the last two seasons and took League One side Peterborough to a replay before losing 5-2 away from home last year.
It's only the fourth time they've reached the third round, having taken Coventry, in the top flight at the time, to a replay in 1997 before losing 2-1 at home.
Their best run previously – having never been promoted to the Football League – was in 1991 when they won 4-2 at West Brom, who were then in the second tier, in the third round before being edged out 1-0 at Everton in the fourth.
'Everyone's buzzing to be fair, it's one of the biggest games in the club's history, everyone's looking forward to it because it's a big occasion,' Loza concluded.
'It's going to be a really hard game and a lot of our players and people around Woking won't have been around a big game like this before. So it's important for us to enjoy the day, leave everything we've got out on the pitch and if we can get a win or a draw, that would be the cherry on the cake.'
• The Cards' game against Watford is a 2pm kick-off on Sunday and is being screened live by BT Sport
• You can watch Loza in action in the videos above, teeing up the second and scoring the third (wearing number 11) as Woking thrashed Billericay 4-0 earlier this season. You can also re-live his late Championship goal for the Canaries at Huddersfield