The FA Cup 3rd round draw has that strange way of pitching teams against each other in quick succession and that`s what we had here. Having played, and lost to Fulham on Boxing day, the Cottagers came back on the first Saturday in January for this cup tie.
Big news overshadowing the squad news for City was a reported bid by Aston Villa for Wes Hoolahan. Would Wes be in the squad?
As it turned out, no he wouldn`t with Chris Hughton insisting afterwards that the player had an injury and that he knew nothing of any bid for him.
‘Wes [Hoolahan] reported an injury yesterday and at this moment is having treatment. There has been no bid that I am aware of, absolutely not” Hughton said.
‘It’s not our intention to lose players, our intentions are to strengthen what we have got here and to make sure we get these players back fit.’
With injuries and a suspension to Leroy Fer, City named a slightly unusual side but needs must. Hooper was rested and Ricky van Wolfswinkel came in for his first start for three months. Michael Turner was also injured and in his place came Ryan Bennett to play alongside Russell Martin with Seb Bassong having a slight knock.
Javier Garrido returned, as did (amazingly) David Fox with Josh Murphy making his first ever start for the senior side.
Fulham were able to call on the prodigal son, Clint Dempsey, who is back on loan from the MLS – it seems all is forgiven after he refused to play when effectively forcing a big money move to Spurs a couple of summers ago.
Norwich had plenty of possession early on and efforts from Murphy and Elmander went close, but the best chance fell to panto villain, Darren Bent when he was put through by Kasami, only to be denied by Mark Bunn on the half hour.
Ten minutes later though and Fulham were ahead after Bent was allowed to head past Mark Bunn, who came, didn`t get it and ended up in no-man`s land. Not really the keeper`s fault, although if you come, you`ve got to get it but the defence should`ve been better.
The visitors` lead didn`t last long as Murphy fired in a cross after some really good wing play on the left for Snodgrass to head past Stockdale, the ball seemed to go straight through him and I don`t expect he was happy, he should`ve done better but that was the scores level again and how it stayed at half time.
City had the best of the possession with David Fox being the string puller in chief, playing plenty of neat passes, something that our team has been crying out for.
Can Foxy not play alongside Leroy Fer in the league, with Fer doing the muscle work?
Murphy was also a revelation and had a great game, his dynamism and explosive pace being a real threat whenever he got the ball and an assist on his first start isn`t too shabby.
In the second half, City looked the more likely of the two sides to score and for all his nervousness for the City goal, Stockdale made up for that with what his manager described as a “Gordon banks like save” from RvW.
A beautiful cross from Garrido saw Ricky jump and head the ball downwards. Meulensteen also said that he thought the ball was in as soon as it left Ricky`s head. Stockdale somehow made a terrific one handed save to deny the City striker, who otherwise looked sharp and lively.
‘David Stockdale had a Gordon Banks-like save to keep us in the game” said Meulensteen.
‘It was definitely one of the best saves I have seen. It was a fantastic cross by [Javier] Garrido and a great leap by Van Wolfswinkel.’
Robert Snodgrass` free kick hit the side netting and Steven Whittaker`s low cross towards the end evaded all the City forwards when a touch would`ve knocked it in.
A draw won`t suit either side and the replay will be at Craven Cottage on Tuesday 14th January.
The pluses are that we are still in the hat for the fourth round and David Fox was named man of the match. One of the first things Hughton did when he took over from Paul Lambert was to award Fox a new two year contract, he virtually never played him again and I think I`m right in saying that his contract is up in the summer – poor form from the gaffer, I say.
Josh Murphy continues to go from strength to strength and was replaced on his debut by his brother, Jacob. It must be a great day in the Murphy family, well done lads.