Norwich 4 - 1 Cardiff. Comment

Last updated : 18 February 2024 By Paul Evans

There is one type of fixture which is almost exclusively played in January. The FA Cup can pair the smallest of non league David’s with the biggest of Premier League Goliaths in the Third and Fourth Rounds, but, with the minnows having normally left the competition by the time February and the Fifth Round comes along, it’s pretty rare to get such a fixture outside of January.


Thinking back to occasions when the underdog has triumphed, it’s ironic that Hereford’s iconic win over Newcastle at Edgar Street in 1972 in the Third Round took place in February because of postponements and the fact that the game was a replay. Sutton beating Coventry in 1989 was another example and I can remember Luton and Lincoln beating top flight sides pretty recently when they were non League clubs – Lincoln being one of the few giant killers to make it into February I believe

This season, we’ve not quite got the same thing with Maidstone winning at Championship high flyers Ipswich the closest similarity to what I’m talking about. Maidstone have made it into February and the Fifth Round, but the norm for these type of fixtures is for the big side to make it through and sometimes the margin of victory can be embarrassing (hardly surprising given that there can be one hundred places plus in the English pyramid between the participants when the non league minnow meets the Premier League whale) – for example, three weeks after their heroics against Coventry, Sutton were thrashed 8-0 by Norwich at Carrow Road in the Fourth Round.

I wouldn’t mind betting that as the sixth and seventh goals hit the Sutton net that afternoon, some hack in the press box was calling them “plucky underdogs”. No matter whether they run their betters very close or they get tonked by them, non League teams that play in the Third Round of the FA Cup and beyond are always plucky!

Well, another set of plucky underdogs visited Carrow Road today except they were in the same division as Norwich! I know that to be true because I’m looking at the league table as I type this and, in fact, Norwich’s opponents are just seven places below their seventh placed hosts. Nevertheless, as I watched Cardiff City go down to a flattering 4-1 defeat today, I couldn’t get this thought that the match resembled a plucky non league minnow having their big day out in the Cup against the sort of side they could well end up facing just once in their history out of my mind.

Going back thirty five years to that game against Sutton on the same ground, I wonder whether Norwich had it easier today than they did against the part timers from Surrey? The respective scores suggests that City provided the Canaries with the tougher test and it’s also the case that we were leading for twenty minutes, but, as I mentioned earlier, that 4-1 scoreline flattered City – in fact, it greatly flattered them.

Plucky underdog teams tend to be full of honest toilers who are pretty ordinary footballers, they often have one more talented player who can decorate the tie to some extent and, if they are to become a giant killer, they need their goalkeeper to have a stormer (see Maidstone).

City qualified on two of those fronts this afternoon, they had limited toilers aplenty and, for far too short a time in the first half, Rubin Colwill was, just like he was for a while at Watford, the most influential player on the pitch.

The day started badly with the news that Aaron Ramsey and Perry Ng were out with injuries – Erol Bulut said in his post match interview that he hoped the first named would be available for next weekend’s game with Stoke and Ng has a long standing hip issue which can keep him out for short periods, but, again, the hope was he’d be available soon.

Having what I’d say were two of your best three or four technical footballers unavailable suggested that a City team in a wretched run of results and with confidence on the floor were always going to be in for a tough time and it certainly worked out that way – I still can’t work out how they came out of a completely one sided first half just 2-1 down.

The experiment with three centre backs on Tuesday at West Brom lasted just the one match with City reverting to a back four with Mahlon Romeo coming in for Ng and Jamilu Collins restored at left back. Joe Ralls was back in the midfield and Manolis Siopis returned as Ryan Wintle and David Turnbull dropped out. Karlan Grant came back after having to sit out the West Brom game because of the terms of his loan, but he started on the right as a replacement for the injured Yakou Meite.

There was to be no repeat of West Brom’s twenty nine second goal in midweek, but City should have been behind inside three minutes as Josh Sargent, who really should have been taking the match ball home with him, was presented with all of the goal to shoot at from ten yards out, but put his effort too close to Nat Phillips who was able to make a clearance off the line he had no right to.

The template for the game was set in the opening minutes as the home full backs continually impersonated wingers. They spent far more time in the City half than their own and with City too slow in mind and body and too faulty in technique to do anything to change the flow of the match.

It was so one sided that I felt like a Norwich goal was overdue when only five minutes had been played.

Besides Phillips’ clearance off the line, an effort by Borja Sainz was saved and Ashley Barnes had headed over from no more than three yards out before ten minutes had elapsed. However, from somewhere, City were able to get some possession and show their hosts that they could trouble them as well. Colwill was the source of what attacking threat City posed during this time as his balance and skill enabled him to find the room to string together some passes which caused problems down Norwich’s left flank. A neat short pass to Romeo enabled the full back to jab the ball goalwards, goalkeeper Angus Gunn blocked and the ball came back at Romeo whose wild air shot from a good position rather emphasised his out and out defender credentials.

Colwill soon combined with Grant and Romeo to find himself free in the penalty area close to the bye line on the right, his first attempt to cross was a failure, but his second one went beyond the far post to Collins of all people who turned the ball goalwards with Norwich centre back Grant Hanley unable to keep it out.

Having both of your full backs deep in your opponent’s penalty area within two minutes of each other with one of them scoring is usually a signal of attacking intent, but the truth was that the game would be over and done with before City really threatened another goal and, although there was still the odd flash from Colwill, the period where he had Norwich worried had passed.

The rest of the half was one way traffic and with Gabriel Sara hitting the post  and last ditch defending galore. I was just beginning to think we could get to half time with our lead intact when Norwich put the ball in our net three times in the five minutes before the break!

I mentioned earlier that plucky underdogs need their keeper to have a great game, but, having, perhaps, been at fault with a goal in midweek, Ethann Horvarth pawed out a Sam McCallum cross (why do City’s full backs always defend so narrow? Left back McCallum was given so much room to get so many of his crosses in) straight to Sargent who scored from eight yards.

Within a minute McCallum crossed again and Barnes finished from close range, but was adjudged to be offside. I thought City got lucky there, but things evened out when Sara’s lovely free kick from twenty yards got a slight deflection which took it beyond Horvarth and into the net.

Norwich weren’t as relentless in the second half, but, after a quietish first nine minutes, they raised the tempo to present Sargent with another chance and again he was to receive Horvarth’s help in scoring. This time hough the keeper was blameless as he made a fine save to turn his fellow American internationals first shot on to a post only for the rebound to fly straight back to the striker who couldn’t miss this time.

Sargent put another good chance straight at Horvarth before sub Christian Fassnacht made it four in the seventy seventh minute with a neat finish.

As much as City were wretched, Norwich were impressive with their vibrant and pacey attacking, but will they finish in the top six? I’d say no because that attacking intent with the full backs bombing on gives their opponents a chance or two – in fact, make that four or five on today’s evidence.

Our manager made the frankly ludicrous claim on Thursday that we have been creating plenty of chances, but not taking them – I cannot remember us having one presentable chance to score in our last three, goalless, home defeats. Here however, we did have more chances than we’ve been used to lately and better sides than us will take advantage of Norwich’s approach and their occasional sloppiness – as it was, all the opportunities we were presented with showed was the lack of confidence and incisive finishing of our strikers.

The under 21s played their second game of the week yesterday afternoon when they drew 1-1 with Colchester at Leckwith. It was a very young team (Joel Colwill and Cian Ashford were missing because they were on the bench today at Norwich – they weren’t used of course). Colchester led for a long time thanks to what I thought was a soft penalty award, but Tanatswa Nyakhuwa’s late header from a cross by Morgan Wigley gave us a deserved point.

Nyakhuwa was one of three who played forty five minutes yesterday then started for the under 18s at Millwall this lunchtime when they got back on the winning trail with a good 3-0 win – no details of goal scorers I’m afraid.