Photo Gallery: So easy as Norwich City give measure of progress
Norwich City 4, Burnley 1: Bucking the historical trend proved a mere aside set against confirmation of Norwich City's elevated status.
Winning games and promotions appear to come routinely for Paul Lambert and his coaching staff. It is anything but. Sustained success dramatically downplays the skill and collective work ethic among a group of people stood squarely behind the Canary cause. One mission. One goal.
Yet dalliances with knockout cup football have largely proved beyond even the mercurial Scot's remit. Early exits in League and FA Cups have largely been the norm; sacrificed on the altar of upward league aspirations.
Longer suffering City fans will need no history lessons. Norwich's FA Cup record over the past 15 seasons has been, frankly, woeful for a club of its stature, fan base and heritage.
Lambert's stint has only accentuated a downward trend; reasons for which extend far beyond the confines of Carrow Road to what is packaged these days as a general disenchantment with the enduring appeal of this country's premier cup competition.
There appears little sign of apathy in these parts. The passion and vibrancy in a 22,000 plus attendance was matched by the men in green and yellow who set about Burnley with a surgical potency that saw the Championship play-off contenders two goals adrift inside 13 minutes.
Lambert's line up resonated far more tellingly than pre-match soundbites from the principals that City would not undervalue the competition. Lest it be overlooked, eight of those starters were also present on duty against MK Dons back in August when Norwich meekly bowed out of the League Cup.
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Lambert has the same personnel at his disposal now as then – but Norwich look a different animal altogether. The fruits of that Premier League toughening up process were never more apparent here against a club who had taken four points from the Canaries just last season.
The gulf was a chasm, the difference between both sets of players vast. Jay Rodriguez's free header should have been the precursor to a rip roaring tie ripe for the old FA Cup clich�s. It never materialised.
Norwich guarded the ball jealously as the first half elapsed. City's squad have defied expectations in the top flight because they absorb information at a rapid rate. Intelligence runs like a rich seam throughout Lambert's squad.
When you spend afternoons chasing the ball against the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham under the lights at Carrow Road prior to Christmas you know the value of possession. The goals to match their dominance followed after the break. City scored four for the second time inside a month. They had many more gears to go.
Steve Morison and Elliott Bennett entered the fray from the bench. Two summer arrivals to supplement a squad that had been good enough to leave the likes of Burnley trailing. Eddie Howe's men won six of their last eight games prior to heading to Norfolk. Defeat to Leeds the previous week had come after they led entering the 87th minute at Elland Road.
Rodriguez's header was the highpoint. Burnley spent the majority of this cup tie starved of possession. Hemmed into there own half for long spells as City's 'Matador' football forced the Clarets' to clock up mile after mile. All that was missing from David Fox's repertoire was the cape.
Howe was the youngest manager in the Football League when he was appointed Bournemouth boss in January 2009. The 34-year-old clearly knows the value of homework – setting Burnley up in a mirror image of Fulham's formation from the previous week's Premier League instalment. Dean Marney reprised the Danny Murphy role in a deep lying midfield berth patrolling just in front of his own back four.
Marney is no Murphy. Fulham raided almost at will during that first half when City were fortunate to reach the interval only one down. Here there was one outstanding candidate for the playmaker role. Fox set the tempo and the directional thrust time and time again. The City midfielder never looks hurried at the best of times.
Against Burnley for large spells he turned the role into something approaching an art form – one gravity-defying pass late in the opening period sent spiralling towards Simeon Jackson fused vision with geometric grace.
Fox had plentiful targets to hit. Jackson and Grant Holt terrorised down the channels. Inside the box Burnley had no answer. The Clarets' gameplan was redundant in the fractions of a second it took first the home skipper and then his sidekick to rise untroubled to despatch pinpoint centres from the left.
Rodriguez's reply capped a spirited response. Burnley looked brittle at the back, full of front-running endeavour up top at this early stage with Rodriguez and Charlie Austin flanking Martin Paterson. Sadly, for the small pocket of die hards situated in the Jarrold only one of those traits was to endure for the duration. Austin was harshly adjudged to have handled Andrew Crofts' volley smacked against him from point blank range.
Holt's collector's item of a miss from the resulting spot kick dispensed a modicum of justice. Dani Ayala's decisive intervention ensured Norwich remained in command. Injury robbed the former Liverpool defender of a chance to stake an early claim for a start. The 21-year-old is making up for lost time.
A rocky opening spell against the Cottagers – along, it must be said with the rest of his side – has given way to a growing maturity in the five halves of football since. Ayala has been well schooled in the finest Anfield traditions of ball-playing centre backs.
The Spaniard's poise and grace bringing the ball out of defence gives Norwich an extra dimension. His burgeoning partnership with Zak Whitbread, another man from Melwood, bodes well for the bigger tests that lie ahead. But Ayala also possesses that priceless commodity; anticipation to sense the danger.
One early sliding challenge cleared Ross Wallace's probing cross. A wonderful near post block thwarted Austin on the cusp of the interval from another Wallace delivery. City's search for a clean sheet can wait for another day, but with the likes of Marc Tierney and Kyle Naughton absent on the flanks and Lambert confirming post-match Elliott Ward is inching closer to a long awaited return and Leon Barnett sat in reserve, Norwich's backline now possesses a healthier glow singularly lacking to this point of the campaign.
Keeper, post and Jackson's wayward telemetry combined to frustrate Norwich shortly after the resumption when the Canadian implausibly screwed wide after Holt's strike thudded against the base of Lee Grant's upright following a one-handed parry to foil Wes Hoolahan.
Potential still lingered for another to add to the collection of ignominious cup exits. But this never remotely threatened to unravel into an MK Dons, a Leyton Orient or a Bury if you wish to delve even further back.
City continued to probe for weakness. Burnley's centre remained solid.
Norwich's window of opportunity presented itself again down the Clarets' right flank; shorn as it was of Championship player-of-the-month nominee Kieran Trippier, suspended after his recent Leeds sending off.
More evidence were it needed of the streetwise edge to City's pretty football. Holt drifted wide left with increasing regularity. Adam Drury offered the perfect foil.
His intended clip into Jackson squirted towards Andrew Surman who drew Grant before drilling across the Burnley stopper into the bottom corner. Drury completed his personal hat-trick of assists with the spot for Aaron Wilbraham to turn and smash at Grant who could only parry to the waiting feet of Morison.
Howe offered a brutally frank assessment of Norwich's mastery and his side's failings in his post-match conference. The Canaries had been too sharp, too savvy for his men on a day in the English footballing calendar set aside for the underdog.
Avoiding a repeat meeting in the Championship next season remains the primary objective. City fully merited a place in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
But the manner of this emphatic display only served to emphasis their meteoric rate of progress allied to the gulf that now exists between them and the Football League.