Premier gains beckon should Norwich City harness FA Cup boldness
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FA Cup progress at the first attempt may have eluded Norwich City but the residual benefits can trigger longer lasting tremors.
"This felt like an uplifting afternoon in a season when the Carrow Road support too often have had to endure rather than enjoy their football fix."
Much of the build up and the aftermath was predictably dominated by the absence of Wes Hoolahan when, in truth, the influential presence of two other midfielders at Chris Hughton’s disposal should provide the abiding memories.
Few may expect either Josh Murphy or David Fox to have a leading role when Hughton selects his side for the resumption of Premier League hostilities at Everton this weekend, but both demonstrated it would be unwise for the City chief to simply disregard either option.
A youthful Fulham outfit on an afternoon free from the pressures and suffocating strictures of Premier League survival perhaps should temper some of the more effusive praise but nevertheless two men at the opposite ends of their careers underlined Hughton cannot ignore their latent value, given the Canaries’ current predicament and search for upward mobility.
Leroy Fer and Jonny Howson appear the manager’s favoured central midfield pairing. Alex Tettey’s pending return from ankle surgery may in time bring a reprise of the system that worked so well in a first Premier League away win of the campaign at Stoke which has been frustratingly mothballed through injuries.
Tettey’s defensive screening role in the Potteries allowed both Fer and the previously constrained Howson to probe offensively which laid the platform for the Yorkshireman’s swerving winner.
Fox remains peerless within Hughton’s ranks for his vision and his range of passing. Hughton may harbour misgivings over his athleticism and his ability to flourish in the muck and nettles of Premier League warfare, but much like Hoolahan there is still a place and a moment in the right setting for Fox’s special brand of artistry. Hughton’s task is to incorporate both when he senses favourable conditions.
Fox has been a peripheral figure for much of Hughton’s tenure but development football and a fractured three-month stint in the Championship at struggling Barnsley have not dimmed his gifts or his talent on the evidence of this 90-minute cameo.
Norwich were on the front foot for the majority, bar a period prior to half-time when Fulham threatened to replicate the measure of control they enjoyed in a Boxing Day league win which cast a pall over plenty of honest endeavour elsewhere during the festive season.
Hughton’s hand may have been forced by a lengthening injury list of temporary ailments in the cases of Bradley Johnson, Sebastien Bassong and one hopes Hoolahan himself, and longer term abstentions, which may well now include Michael Turner after confirmation of a hamstring strain, but the manager’s starting selection was both bold and invigorating.
Fox was the conductor but Murphy was the driving crescendo from the very first moments when he confidently tested David Stockdale. The FA Cup Youth Cup winner was fearless in the opening quarter and City collectively thrived on his vibrant energy. Murphy is a teenage talent maturing at a rate of knots and Hughton will know better than most, after moulding the early career of Nathan Redmond, the time is fast approaching when he must be considered a viable Premier League option.
The intelligent Fox serviced him with monotonous regularity. Javier Garrido and Robert Snodgrass covered vast acreage around Fox with Jacob Murphy and Redmond introduced in a bid to avoid a replay which can only be detrimental during the build up to Hull’s Premier League visit four days later.
For that, City will rue Stockdale’s penchant for thriving in the face of hostile adversity given his well-documented connections to their East Anglian rivals.
The Cottagers’ back-up keeper denied Ricky van Wolfswinkel in each half; his close range parry in the second period prompting generous praise from his own manager. The Dutchman rose majestically to head Garrido’s tempting cross goalwards, but Stockdale clawed out his close range effort in a fresh act of defiance. The 24-year-old’s first start in three months may not have brought him a second Norwich goal but Hughton’s three-pronged attacking spearhead did erode a degree of the isolation which had marked his stint in the City line up prior to a toe injury.
Gary Hooper would expect to return for the trip to Goodison Park given his prolific ratio but Norwich need van Wolfswinkel to ease some of the goalscoring burden.
There was much to admire in the hosts’ ambition. This felt like an uplifting afternoon in a season when the Carrow Road support too often have had to endure rather than enjoy their football fix.
Hughton’s immediate task is to harness such positivity and optimism engendered from melding youth with experience in trying circumstances.
The City boss is often castigated for his rigidity and his reluctance to broker a degree of gambler’s instinct but there was a freshness and a sense of purpose to Norwich’s work that should be retained, irrespective of the shifting cast list who return for the trip to Merseyside.