Georgios Samaras celebrated his first appearance of the season by scoring a last-minute winner for Manchester City last night as the high-flying Premier League side made desperately hard work of defeating the Championship strugglers Norwich City.
Sven Goran Eriksson's second-string side had only rarely looked like scoring in the 89 minutes that preceded the Greece international capitalising on the substitute Kelvin Etuhu's incisive through ball to send City into the fourth round.
It was more than they deserved because Norwich had created arguably the better chances of a game that did little to enhance the credibility of the Carling Cup as a competition that the bigger clubs take seriously.
From the starting line-up of last Saturday's 3-3 draw at Fulham, Eriksson made nine changes, with only the captain Richard Dunne and the midfielder Stephen Ireland retaining their places. In the absence of Elano, Micah Richards, Martin Petrov and Michael Johnson, it was left to the likes of Rolando Bianchi and Geovanni to provide the attacking impetus.
However, it was Samaras, a forgotten man at Eastlands, who seized the chance to remind Eriksson why he commanded a £6m price tag when he moved from Heerenveen in January of last year.
"I'm very happy for him," Eriksson said. "He told me in August that he planned to stay and fight for his place and that's what he's done.
"I cannot say that we played excellent football because I would be a liar, but in a match like this we have to look at some other players beyond the 12 or 13 who play every week."
For long periods of the match, Norwich were untroubled and enjoyed plenty of possession. They also came the closest to scoring in the opening half when John Otsemobor, the former Liverpool defender, forced Joe Hart into saving his 20-yard free kick.
In the second period, Norwich continued to present a sporadic threat. The former City winger Lee Croft sprung the offside trap, but could not beat Hart and then he sent a dangerous cross along the edge of the six-yard area, which came to nothing.
As the final whistle approached it was left to one of City's young substitutes, Etuhu, to inject some urgency into the home team's play. When his drive from 20 yards flew over the bar, the prospect of extra time loomed large, but that was before a rare moment of happiness for Samaras in his otherwise unhappy spell to date in English football.
"If we had to lose the game then that was the way to do it because until the last minute we played very well," said Peter Grant, the Norwich manager. "It was a cruel way to lose because I thought we created the better chances and looked the more dangerous team."
Manchester City (4-4-2): Hart; Logan, Dunne, Onuoha, Ball; Sun Jihai, Fernandes (Etuhu, 68), Ireland, Samaras; Geovanni (Evans, 79), Bianchi. Substitutes not used: Isaksson (gk), Dabo, Williamson.
Norwich City (4-1-4-1): Marshall; Otsemobor, Doherty, Murray, Lappin; Spillane; Croft, Russell, Jarvis, Brown; Cureton. Substitutes not used: Gilks (gk), Strihavka, Martin, Eagle, Cave-Brown.
Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).Reuse content