Frustrating finish to chessboard battle
Chris Lakey Swindon Town 1, Norwich City 1: The feathers didn't exactly fly when the Canaries met the Robins. Instead they settled gently on the County Ground as both teams made do with "a stalemate" - appropriate given Danny Wilson's reference to it having been like a game of chess.
The feathers didn't exactly fly when the Canaries met the Robins. Instead they settled gently on the County Ground as both teams made do with "a stalemate" - appropriate given Danny Wilson's reference to it having been like a game of chess.
Perhaps it was rough justice on City, who led from the 52nd minute, but were undone less than 20 seconds from the final whistle by another lapse in concentration at their near post when defending a corner.
Last week it was Huddersfield's Neal Trotman who got his head on to a corner early on; on Saturday it was another central defender, Gordon Greer, who did the same.
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This disappointment came 87 minutes later in the game, but was clearly more costly.
Points lost, or one gained, was the big question post-match. Neither manager put up the biggest argument in favour of their side, which suggests that there wasn't much between the teams, and in the cold light of day that was the case.
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The last time City played at the County Ground was a Johnstone's Paint Trophy tie which they won on penalties after a goal-less draw: as a spectacle it was nothing to write home about. This time around was better, but still no reason to put pen to paper. However, for rarity value you might want to consider this:
It was only the third time in the league this season that City have conceded in the final minute.
It was just their seventh draw in 37 games and their first since that ding-dong battle at Yeovil in mid-December.
It was only the third time under Lambert that City have lost points after scoring first, Millwall and MK Dons being the others.
City have won more games than any other team in the country, and after a tit-for-tat opening 45 minutes when only Michael Nelson's header, straight at goalkeeper Phil Smith, could be counted as an effort on target, Grant Holt appeared to have set them on the path to win number 25.
Holt notched goal number 28 of his campaign - leaving him one short of a career league century - when he out-muscled Lecsinel Jean-Francois to meet Michael Rose's cross from six yards out. It was typical Holt and typical number nine play - but the cross was perfect.
Rose hasn't been everyone's cup of tea since he arrived on loan from Stockport, after a fine debut was followed by a few ordinary performances. However, recent games suggest he has settled into life at Carrow Road, and at Swindon he had easily his best game. His link play was excellent; he was a willing attacking full-back - as was Russell Martin on the other flank; he read the game well, and his crossing was top drawer - as Holt would testify. The sight of Adam Drury warming up on the touchline suggests the competition is healthy.
That goal capped a decent spell for City, who had come into the game before the interval and carried it on, despite the best efforts of Danny Ward, who was Swindon's most dangerous player, although he will wake up this morning realising that Fraser Forster can't be beaten from distance.
Chris Martin dusted himself down after a foul and smacked a free-kick against the angle of bar and post - if it had been on target it was surely game over.
But still you'd have put your money on the Canaries holding out, not least because Swindon had lost players to injury - no Billy Paynter up front - and had matched City up in the middle of the park.
There wasn't a great deal of natural width on either side, which is probably why both sets of full-backs enjoyed bombing forward.
For the midfielders it was a slog, for the defenders it was a chance to showcase their resolution: Gary Doherty and Nelson weren't often troubled and Swindon's highly-rated Charlie Austin looked like a fish out of water. That didn't prevent the home fans from booing the decision to take him off with quarter of an hour remaining, but Vincent Pericard was more of a handful, and it was his presence that led indirectly to the equaliser.
Bodies tumbled in the area and pleading eyes were turned towards referee Scott Mathieson, but if he was in the mood to turn down appeals in the first half when Nelson brought down Frank Nouble, then he was hardly going to award a spot kick for minor shoves and rucking.
Then the chess game went out of the window to be replaced by Wacky Races as the fourth official held up the board indicating there would be three more minutes - and Swindon went hell for leather towards City's goal.
When Pericard was held by Nelson 25 yards out, Swindon did what City do so well: they sniffed half a chance. Alan Sheehan thumped a left-footer goalwards, Forster beating it away to his left.
Then Doherty headed away a cross as far as Jonathan Douglas who looked like he was ready to celebrate a brilliant equaliser only to see his shot superbly tipped around his right-hand post by Forster at full stretch.
It was the sort of save which makes you think 'that's the game won'. Except when Sheehan swung in the corner, Greer charged in at the near post and got his head to the ball first. Forster had no chance and the points were gone.
There's no shame in dropping points at Swindon - they're well equipped for a promotion challenge and will be looking at the Leeds v Millwall game tonight with just as much interest as City.
They won't be alone, because if Leeds don't win it will be a shot in the arm not just for City but for everyone else in the top six.
If they do win, they're back to five points behind, with nine to play, the next of which is at Carrow Road next Saturday - and that's when the feathers really will fly.