IT TAKES the Cup to bring the best out of Ritchie Humphreys. In fact, it takes the Cup to bring anything at all out of him in the way of goals.
Wednesday's young forward had not scored since putting two past Grimsby exactly two years ago, but he claimed two more at Hillsborough yesterday to set up a meeting with Stockport in the fourth round.
With no immediate prospect of a reunion with Paolo di Canio - who has indicated that he plans to return to Sheffield when his current sick note expires at the end of the month, provided they have not sold him first - Wednesday's other Italian, Benito Carbone, forged a partnership with Humphreys that was too much for Norwich.
The goals that tilted the match Wednesday's way owed as much to Carbone's pace and precision as Humphreys' persistence. It was a superb, angled ball from the little Italian that sent Humphreys storming through to break his drought, although he showed composure in squeezing the shot under the body of the advancing Michael Watt.
Between that and Wednesday's second goal 15 minutes later, Carbone's touch deserted him. But it was back when he latched on to Niclas Alexandersson's pass on the right and flighted an inviting chip into the middle for Humphreys.
His initial header was clawed out, but the tenacious Humphreys had one shot blocked before following up to finally stick it away. Humphreys was also involved in Wednesday's third, meeting Andy Hinchcliffe's cross-field pass with a header to send Petter Rudi striding away to clinch it.
With Rudi and Wim Jonk stroking the ball around expansively in the middle of the field, Wednesday were cruising to the next round, although they were rattled out of any complacency before half-time when Iwan Roberts, whose shot past the post midway through the first half had been the sum of Norwich's threat, rose at the near post to glance Neil Adams' corner into the net.
It should have been a morale-boosting time to score, but the Canaries needed to strike again early in the second half if they were to put Wednesday under serious pressure.
With Des Walker controlling matters coolly at the back, though, further slip ups always looked unlikely and Wednesday were close to putting it beyond all doubt when Alexandersson had the ball in the net after one of the game's many offside decisions, and Watt had saved bravely at the feet of Wednesday substitute, Danny Sonner.
When Dejan Stefanovic scrambled a fourth, and his first of the season, from Hinchcliffe's corner, the score line reflected the ease of Wednesday's victory. Norwich, as close to the play-off places in the First Division as Wednesday are to the Premiership relegation zone, had not been in contention.
"We came here to try to win the tie," said their manager, Bruce Rioch. "But the three main attacks Sheffield had in the first half all resulted in goals. That is a sign of the capability of Premiership players, that they punish you when you make errors and don't defend against them."
Both Rioch and his opposite number, Danny Wilson, condemned the way that the draw for the next round had been made at half-time in this tie.
But Wilson is boosted by the arrival from the shadows of a potential match-winner for future rounds. "I thought Ritchie Humphreys was excellent today," he said. "The work-rate he has been putting in deserved some reward and he got that today.
"We've shown confidence in him and he knows he's got a future at the club. He's a Sheffield lad through and through and there's nothing he would like better than to do well here."
Goals: Humphreys (18) 1-0; Humphreys (33) 2-0; Rudi (40) 3-0; Roberts (45) 3-1; Stefanovic (73) 4-1.
Sheffield Wednesday (3-5-2): Srnicek; Thome (Briscoe, 77), Walker, Stefanovic; Alexandersson, Atherton, Jonk (Sonner h-t), Rudi, Hinchcliffe, Humphreys, Carbone. Substitutes not used: Magilton, Morrison, Pressman (gk).
Norwich City (4-4-2): Watt; Sutch, Jackson, McKay (Fleming, 79), Fuglestad; Adams, L Marshall (Forbes, 79), Grant, Llewellyn; Roberts, Eadie. Substitutes not used: A Marshall (gk), Russell, Coote.
Referee: P Rejer (Leamington Spa).
Booking: Norwich: Jackson
Man of the match: Humphreys.
Attendance: 18,737.Reuse content