Stunning strike from Forbes

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The Independent Football

Birmingham lost an opportunity to make up ground on the two runaway Nationwide First Division leaders last night as they succumbed to an upwardly mobile Norwich side that should have had more than one goal - albeit a spectacular one - to show for their efforts. The home team required a point-blank save by their goalkeeper Andy Marshall from a Bryan Hughes shot in the first minute of injury time to ensure themselves of the points.

Birmingham lost an opportunity to make up ground on the two runaway Nationwide First Division leaders last night as they succumbed to an upwardly mobile Norwich side that should have had more than one goal - albeit a spectacular one - to show for their efforts. The home team required a point-blank save by their goalkeeper Andy Marshall from a Bryan Hughes shot in the first minute of injury time to ensure themselves of the points.

For a team which began 13 places higher in the table than its opponents, and which had beaten Tottenham 3-1 away a week earlier, Birmingham made an unaccountably nervous start.

The basis of their uncertainty seemed to reside in their goalkeeper Ian Bennett, whose blunder had gifted Bolton a point on Saturday. Nothing Bennett did in the opening quarter of an hour would have helped to restore his credibility. A flailing punch into the air in the opening minute went unpunished, but he began pushing his luck nine minutes later when once again he punched at the ball rather than gathering it.

Norwich were building momentum and Birmingham's David Holdsworth was booked after 21 minutes for fouling Parker, but Norwich were not that easy to stop, and the only thing which prevented them breaking through was a lack of co-ordination between their midfield and the two men up-front, Lee Marshall and Iwan Roberts.

But as half-time approached there was more meaningful action. After 41 minutes Marshall did well to block a close range drive from Dele Adebola after Martin Grainger had dispossessed Malky Mackay on the edge of the box. Within a minute, Birmingham's left-back Michael Johnson had sent a header only inches wide.

But having avoided what would have been a sucker punch, the home side delivered a stunning blow of their own to take the lead with virtually the last kick of the half. When Grainger headed the ball out of the goalmouth under pressure, it fell for Adrian Forbes, who arrowed an angled volley into the far corner of the net.

Twice within the space of four minutes early in the second half, Norwich had chances. After 56 Roberts had a clear run on goal but he hesitated and shot wide. Birmingham almost did the job for him on the hour when substitute Graham Hyde lobbed the ball towards his own goal, forcing keeper Bennett to recoup a few Brownie points with a header.

The Birmingham manager Trevor Francis admitted that his team would have been fortunate to earn anything from Hughes's last-minute effort. "It wouldn't have been totally deserved because Norwich, I thought, were a good side." Just how good may be demonstrated this Saturday when they travel to the team who beat Watford last night, Sheffield Wednesday.

Norwich City (4-4-2): A Marshall; Sutch, Fleming, Mackay, Granville; Forbes (Coote, 78), Mulryne, Parker (Russell, 73), Llewellyn; L Marshall, Roberts. Substitutes not used: Green (gk), Dervelde, Walsh.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Bennett; Gill (Hyde, h-t), Holdsworth, Purse, M Johnson; Eaden, Hughes, Grainger, Lazaridis (A Johnson, 74); Burchill (Horsfield, h-t), Adebola. Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), Burrows, A Johnson.

Referee: A Butler (Sutton-in-Ashfield).

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