Norwich's FA Cup tie a chance Ricky van Wolfswinkel must take

Posted by Paddy Davitt

Ricky van Wolfswinkel: Norwich's marquee can deliver goals.GettyImagesRicky van Wolfswinkel has scored just one Premier League goal.

Chris Hughton will not admit it publicly but Norwich City could well do without the distraction of an FA Cup third-round home tie against fellow Premier League strugglers Fulham.

That is not a tacit acceptance the historic cup competition has lost its lustre as it competes for exposure and glamour with a far bigger rival in the English top flight, but recognition of the crippling injury list and the all-consuming focus on safeguarding the club's league status.

City's hard-earned New Year's Day point at Crystal Palace -- Jason Puncheon's penalty cancelling out Bradley Johnson's opener in a frenetic five-minute spell before the interval -- continued the incremental trend towards a third season of Premier League consolidation.

A game that required two pre-match pitch inspections due to severe weather swirling around Selhurst Park was never likely to produce a classic, irrespective of both side's dire need for points. Norwich have now earned points at West Brom, Sunderland and the Eagles in their last three away Premier League games, though the desperate Boxing Day defeat to Fulham cast a pall over the Canaries' entire festive campaign.

Fulham followed up that 2-1 Carrow Road victory by shipping six goals at Hull before repairing a degree of damage in overcoming fellow strugglers West Ham at Craven Cottage. Neither manager is likely to view this weekend's tie as the chance for an exciting FA Cup run, but there is a caveat that Hughton will clearly factor into his planning for a fifth game in 14 days.

Ricky van Wolfswinkel is the club-record purchase who bar brief glimpses of a pedigree that prompted Norwich to smash their previous transfer outlay has failed to convince. In the Dutchman's defence, a muscular toe injury which kept him out for eight games was hardly likely to smooth the transitional process but one goal in the opening-day Premier League draw with Everton is a poor return for man who arrived on English shores with a prolific strike rate in his native Netherlands and for Sporting Lisbon.

The 24-year-old may justifiably feel his brand of cunning and predatory instincts so effective in Portugal have yet to be accommodated by Hughton, who continues to remain wedded to a belief in the defensive solidity that marked his first season in charge and which a major summer splurge for attacking options was designed to address.

Gary Hooper's Norwich career was similarly stalled by preseason injury, but seven goals in 13 starts underlines City's protracted attempts to recruit the striker from Celtic was a worthwhile exercise. The reality is Norwich do not possess the depth of resources available to the biggest hitters. Hughton and the Canaries' fan base need all their expensive summer purchases to contribute. Van Wolfswinkel’s compatriot, Leroy Fer, has firmly played his way into contention for Netherlands' World Cup squad with a seamless transition from FC Twente. Nathan Redmond and Martin Olsson look more than useful additions to the Norwich ranks but the club need a big second-half to the season from van Wolfswinkel.

The less pressurised backdrop of an FA Cup third round tie against a Fulham team who similarly must prioritise Premier League safety could produce the perfect fringe benefit.

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