Fulham 3, Norwich City 0
©Focus Images Limited www.focus-images.co.uk +447814 482222
Norwich City miserably crashed out of the FA Cup on Tuesday night with a 3-0 defeat at Fulham that intensified the pressure on manager Chris Hughton.
Darren Bent and Ashkan Dejagah profited from fresh hesitancy in the visitors’ defence prior to the interval and Steve Sidwell sealed a fourth round trip to Sheffield United with a 68th minute far post header. Norwich’s dire display at Craven Cottage was the club’s eighth consecutive match without a victory ahead of what is now a crunch Premier League home game against Hull City at Carrow Road this weekend for the manager and his under-fire players.
Hughton’s line up contained five starters from last weekend’s Premier League 2-0 defeat at Everton. Seb Bassong was partnered by Russell Martin in central defence with Steven Whittaker also retaining his place at right back. Javier Garrido played his third consecutive game, but the first in his more accustomed left-back role, with midfielders Bradley Johnson and Robert Snodgrass also on duty after their Goodison Park shift.
Josh Murphy made his second senior start after an eye-catching outing in the original tie with Johan Elmander preferred to Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper omitted from the squad. The Dutch striker was joined on the bench at kick-off by Luciano Becchio, who did not feature on Merseyside, and Murphy’s twin brother, Jacob.
Cottagers’ chief Rene Meulensteen opted to include the likes of Maarten Stekelenburg, Brede Hangeland and Steve Sidwell who all sat out the Carrow Road tie that ended 1-1.
City started with David Fox sitting in a withdrawn role in front of the visitors’ back four with Snodgrass deployed alongside Johnson in central midfield. Nathan Redmond drew a sharp save from Stekelenburg after Josh Murphy had slalomed his way across the face of Fulham’s 18-yard line, before Snodgrass curled a left footed strike against the bar from long range in a positive signal of intent from Hughton’s men. Elmander then attempted a swivel and hit in one flowing movement after rolling Dan Burn but the Swedish international’s finish lacked the precision of his initial set. Elmander was prominent again seconds later when Hangeland tried to shepherd a ball out of play but simply proceeded to allow the striker to cut an inviting ball back for Snodgrass only for Sascha Riether to sense the danger.
City were enjoying themselves in the early skirmishes with Martin and Bassong committed to playing the ball out from deep and the Canaries’ midfield looking to supply Josh Murphy at every opportunity. Sidwell tested Mark Bunn at the other end but that was a rare incursion for the Cottagers. Redmond drifted inside Riether after swapping flanks with Josh Murphy, but the England Under-21 international dragged his effort into the side netting.
Dejagah tumbled under the attentions of Bassong in the 14th minute but there was no repeat of the Boxing Day horrors from Norwich’s defensive wall with Pajtim Kasami’s free kick rolling tamely through to Bunn. Bent, however, was intent on a reprise of his goalscoring impact from the original tie when his predatory instincts nudged Fulham in front against the run of play. City failed to prevent Kasami’s low cross on the right and compounded the error by leaving Bent free to slot a first time finish past Bunn from eight yards.
City’s collective confidence appeared to visibly evaporate in the immediate aftermath with Bent just unable to divert Riether’s angled strike. Norwich had now surrendered midfield to the Cottagers, with Sidwell a growing influence on the contest. Whittaker ran down a blind alley which allowed Sidwell to trigger a counter by picking out the unmarked Alex Kacaniklic but Fox was back on the cover with a sliding near post block. Bassong then hacked away at the third attempt inside his own six yard box with Bent sensing another opportunity as Hughton gestured frantically on the sidelines.
Even Josh Murphy’s urgings had lessened in their intensity with the Cottagers now swarming around the teenager whenever he tried to get City on the front foot. Norwich’s commitment to build through Fox could not disguise the fact it was the hosts’ who carried the latent attacking threat; Sidwell anticipated Snodgrass’ reverse pass intended for his team mate before releasing Bent but Martin raced across to thwart the goalscorer.
Josh Murphy’s persistence earned a corner five minutes before the interval which sparked the hardy travelling support to raise the volume but Hangeland beat Bassong in a heavyweight aerial duel to trigger another counter which brought Fulham’s second – Kacaniklic escaping undetected to square for Dejagah to roll home from seven yards.
Josh Murphy again led the break out in the final seconds of the opening period with Snodgrass in support but Riether hacked behind – Johnson heading the Scot’s corner over under pressure at the far post.
Hughton introduced van Wolfswinkel for Redmond at the interval with Snodgrass reverting to his berth on the right and City deploying the Dutchman alongside Elmander. Van Wolfswinkel was denied by Hangeland’s intervention with a noticeable increase in the tempo after Norwich’s laboured efforts for the majority of the first half. But the quality deficit was painfully evident in the final third, typified by Whittaker’s errant cross after van Wolfswinkel pestered Hangeland before feeding the Scottish international.
Bassong then connected with Snodgrass’ deep free kick but the captain’s header lacked the power to trouble Stekelenburg. Garrido bravely prevented a third goal for the hosts when he denied Dejagah but relief was only temporary as Sidwell fended off his marker to despatch Riether’s cross.
Hughton turned to Luciano Becchio who replaced Elmander and City pressed forward more in hope than any expectation with Stekelenburg remaining a virtual spectator despite one or two sporadic skirmishes in front of the Dutchman. Fulham could have increased their lead in the closing stages when Kacaniklic drew a low save from Bunn. Johnon skied over deep in stoppage time much to the derision of the home fans.
• Fulham: Stekelenburg, Riether, Hangeland, Burn, Richardson, Karagounis, Sidwell (Christensen 84), Dejagah, Kasami, Kačaniklić (Tankovic 87), Bent (Dembèlè 79). Subs (not used): Stockdale, Hughes, Rodallega, Dempsey.
• Bookings: Karagounis (foul on Johnson, 71)
• Goals: Bent (16), Dejagah (41), Sidwell (68)
• Norwich: Bunn, Whittaker, Martin, Bassong, Garrido, Fox, Johnson, Snodgrass, Redmond (van Wolfswinkel 45), Josh Murphy, Elmander (Becchio 68). Subs (not used): Ruddy, Fer, Hoolahan, Ryan Bennett, Jacob Murphy.
• Time added on: 1 minute / 3 minutes
• Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire)
• Attendance: 11,172