Concentrate on the league? Chance would be a fine thing

Last updated : 10 January 2006 By Rick Lamb
It's the second week of January and Norwich City's interest in the nation's cup competitions is over for another season. Already.

It is easy to be swept up in the feverish excitement that the media would often have us believe surrounds the draw for each round of "The oldest cup competition in the world" but, like so much else in life, the more you experience the raising of expectations, the more you are faced with disappointment.

City never seem to inspire much interest in any of the cups. This term, like last, they went out of the Carling Cup to an avergae Premiership side by a narrow margin. You feel that we missed the boat a bit when we couldn't even win a trophy named after our manager. It's nine more years until there's a five at the end and we can look forward to another shot at fate.

In the FA Cup, our run of mediocre ties continued in 2006. The only interesting thing about playing West Ham was that we played them last year. The sort of draws Norwich habitually get are the ones that even the most seasoned preview writer would struggle to extract relevance from. Gone are the days of beating Sutton United 8-0. If we had that draw today, we wouldn't lose - that would be far too controversial - we'd scrape through. Like when we played Dagenham a couple of years ago.

It's not that I'm trying to put the club down, far from it. I just long, as I'm sure many others do, for the distraction of a good cup run. A winner takes all tie with you know who down the road would do. Even if we lost, it would be worth the anticipation. No, we'd have to win.

The feeling around this year's exit from the FA Cup at the hands of West Ham United was remarkably similar to last year's defeat by the same opponents on a superficial level, but at the same time completely the opposite.

A year ago, the Hammers were in a similar position to Norwich, and Alan Pardew fighting for his life in the way Nigel Worthington has been. City were struggling for points in the Premiership just as West Ham have been recently, although the Londoners are significantly better of than their East Anglian counterparts were.

Another major parallel is the situation regarding Dean Ashton. We knew he was coming when he was left out of Crewe's team for the third round of the cup, and soon he was in. The winning goal was not to be Marlon Harewood's final knock out blow against City (ask Robert Green, if he remembers), and didn't end hope for 2005. Sure enough, Ashton came in and has been a tremendous asset to the club in every possible sense. His demeanour befits a man of far more advanced years.

Sure enough, when it came around to this year, Ashton disappeared at the last minute from the line-up and was rumoured to be about to pop up at a major club near you. I'm sure mine wasn't the only heart that sank and, even after the defeat, rose again with the news that, as far as we trust the manager, Ashton is actually injured.

All things considered, the overriding feeling as a Canaries fan at this time of year echoes a year ago, for this fan at least. A crucial midfielder is out with a facial injury, we're being linked with all sorts of comings and goings in the transfer market one day and having them knocked on the head the day after, and we're in a division where the leaders are disappearing over the horizon.

Despite the resurgence of the side in December, there is still a great degree of uncertainty about which way the rest of the season will go. Last time around there was foreboding about the inevitable, which came about in the end but almost didn't. This season there is hope, but how realistic it is remains to be seen. Oh, for the distraction of a replay with Burton Albion.