Norwich City must take FA Cup clash with Southampton seriously if they are to build momentum
- Credit: PA
As the 'magic' of the FA Cup returns, David Freezer assesses how important the visit of Southampton is to Norwich City's season.
Here we go again then. It's that time of year when we all talk about Norwich City's pathetic efforts in the FA Cup over the past 20 years or so.
Any evidence of the 'magic of the cup' has been in shockingly short supply in Norfolk in recent times – so should supporters bother to expect anything different this time around?
The Canaries have been handed a similar draw to last season, at home against Premier League opposition again in the third round, albeit slightly less intimidating than Manchester City.
This year it's Southampton, sitting comfortably in 10th place in the top flight but slightly disappointed they have not made better progress under Claude Puel so far.
One difference for City fans will be the price to watch the match. Strangely, adult tickets are £25, five pounds more than it cost to see the superstars of Manchester City win easily last season.
Although Norwich were also a Premier League club at the time, it seems an odd pricing strategy and there is talk of a low attendance, as opposed to a very respectable 24,507 last January.
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What can we expect on the pitch though?
This time last year I wrote that Alex Neil should bear in mind that defeat at lower-level Preston had cost Neil Adams his job in 2015, yet seven changes were made to City's starting XI for the game.
Manuel Pellegrini also made seven changes to his team but the big-spending visitors still started big names including Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling, whereas the under-motivated Canaries left out Wes Hoolahan, Robbie Brady and Dieumerci Mbokani.
It proved costly as well. The abject performance punctured the festive momentum created by three wins in four games and prompted a horrendous run of Premier League form which eventually ended in relegation.
A memorable 2-1 win at Old Trafford on December 19 was followed up by a 3-0 loss at Tottenham on Boxing Day but home wins over Aston Villa and Southampton meant survival hopes were high ahead of the FA Cup tie.
Neil's team were 14th and six points clear of the bottom three.
After the FA Cup defeat a 10-match winless streak featuring eight defeats left City in deep trouble.
Building momentum is something which Neil and hat-trick hero Nelson Oliveira both referred to in the wake of Monday's excellent performance against Derby.
That makes the timing of the FA Cup clash with the Saints far from ideal for the Canaries but could force a more positive approach to the game.
Fail to put up a fight and limp out in the third round for the fourth season in a row and defeat could knock City's fragile confidence.
Go and pull off an upset though and supporters can really start to believe in Neil and his troops again – before travelling to Rotherham next weekend with positivity on the rise.
FA Cup misery
• The Canaries have not won in the third round in 14 of the past 20 years – and were knocked out in the second round in 2009/10
• City have been knocked out by lower level opposition in four of the last six seasons
• In their last five games in the competition, Norwich have scored just one goal
• City have faced Southampton four times, winning once, in the 1992 quarter-finals
Who to choose?
When considering who Alex Neil could pick against the Saints on Saturday I was initially tempted to revert to the 3-4-3 formation seen at Brentford on New Year's Eve.
Although it wasn't a storming success, City did at least look solid defensively at Griffin Park and they will be facing Premier League players in the FA Cup.
However, with Saints potentially making changes ahead of the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final against Liverpool on Wednesday, I think Neil can afford to be more adventurous in his selection.
So it's an opportunity for City to stick with the side – depending on fitness or injury issues – that performed so well against Derby on Monday, with the 4-2-3-1 formation that the manager clearly prefers.
Given there is no midweek game either side of the Carrow Road cup clash, there seems little reason to break that team's momentum, ahead of a very winnable game at Rotherham in the league the following Saturday.
My starting XI: Ruddy; Pinto, Martin, Klose, Olsson; Howson, Tettey; Jacob Murphy, Naismith, Hoolahan; Oliveira.
Who would you pick? Leave your XI as a comment below