Fleck's reprieve for Norwich

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The Independent Online

Norwich City 1 Birmingham City 1

Norwich so desperately craved a victory tonic last night but were content to settle for the next best thing when Robert Fleck's mistimed volley cancelled out the goal Kevin Francis had been threatening to score all evening for the visitors.

So a vigorously contested Coca-Cola Cup quarter-final had everything except a winner. That must wait now for the replay on 24 January. Any hint of a repeat of this frenzied, splendidly entertaining encounter and it ought not to be missed.

Birmingham will feel there really should be no need of a second attempt having seen Jonathan Hunt, a hat-trick match-winner when the sides met in the First Division in August, foiled with his first-half penalty attempt while Norwich were waiting to be swept away.

The beleaguered Canaries, racked by talk of takeovers and yet more managerial upheaval, did well to stay standing at that stage and were again grateful for Bryan Gunn, whose spot-kick saves had seen them past Bolton in the previous round. By the end, however, all the best chances were falling to the home side.

Both goals owed something to fortune. After the break Francis, the gargantuan Birmingham marksman, saw Gunn save with his legs and then again down by his left-hand post.

However, in the 66th minute, Ashley Ward made a poor back pass. John Polston scooped Steve Claridge's cutback off the line, but Francis had spread himself at the far post to bundle the ball in. Four minutes later Fleck clubbed Spencer Prior's headed assist into the ground but it looped over the despairing Paul Sansome into the net.

It was the threat from Francis that had forced Jon Newsome to concede the penalty for handball in the 19th minute. He should have been sent off, but left anyway after the striker fell on him, hobbling off as Gunn dropped to gather Hunt's attempt.

Perhaps Gary Megson, who after six games is still waiting for his first win in his second managerial spell, deserved that.

Norwich City (4-4-2): Gunn; Bradshaw, Newsome (Prior, 24), Polston, M Bowen; Eadie, Adams, Molby, O'Neill (Ullathorne, 89); Fleck, Ward (Scott, 86).

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Sansome; Poole, Edwards, Daish, Frain; Donowa, Forsyth, Richardson (Cooper, 65), Hunt (J Bowen, 53); Claridge, Francis. Substitute not used: Bull.

Referee: R Poulain (Huddersfield).