Greer enjoyment, but cruel on Fraser
David Cuffley Swindon Town 1, Norwich City 1: Visiting supporters approaching Swindon Town Football Club by road have to negotiate one of the 10 scariest junctions in Britain, according to motoring research.
Swindon Town 1, Norwich City 1
Visiting supporters approaching Swindon Town Football Club by road have to negotiate one of the 10 scariest junctions in Britain, according to motoring research.
The “Magic Roundabout”, next to the County Ground, consists of five mini-roundabouts arranged in a circle, offering exits towards the ring road, the town centre, the motorway and the stadium itself.
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Locals familiar with it are able to breeze through, but travelling fans making their first visit may like to allow a little extra time for the last leg of their journey if they wish to avoid heading off to Cirencester.
Whatever time it takes to find the right option, it is unlikely to be a 4�-hour job - but that was how long Swindon's players took to find a route through the Norwich City defence this season.
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As the two sides met for the third time in five months, one was reminded of the roundabout as the hosts tried to pick their way through five impenetrable obstacles in the shape of a resolute City back four and goalkeeper Fraser Forster.
Indeed, Forster, who made one astonishing save from Jonathan Douglas in stoppage time, was just seconds away from keeping his third clean sheet against the Robins when Swindon skipper Gordon Greer struck to deny the League One leaders a fourth successive away victory.
Greer headed home from an Alan Sheehan corner two minutes into time added on to earn his side a point and prevent Paul Lambert's men taking an almost unassailable 10-point lead at the top of the table.
Instead, they are eight points ahead of second-placed Leeds United, who play their one game in hand at home to Millwall tonight before heading to Carrow Road for Saturday's sell-out encounter. The Yorkshire club will need to win both matches to stand a realistic chance of overhauling the leaders - consider they were 11 points ahead of the Canaries with a game in hand after beating them 2-1 in mid-October - but that chink of light is just big enough to make it an interesting week.
Skipper Grant Holt's 28th goal of the season, seven minutes after half-time, looked likely to be enough for City until those anxious closing minutes, but there could be no real complaints from the visitors or their 3,000 followers. A draw was a fair result in a game of few clear-cut chances.
The opening quarter of an hour was short of incident, but with 16 minutes gone, the home crowd were on their feet when loan signing Frank Nouble got away from defender Michael Nelson on the left and went tumbling under the centre-half's tackle. It was debatable whether the challenge was inside the area, but immaterial as referee Scott Mathieson waved penalty appeals aside.
Four minutes later, Nelson was involved in the other penalty area, heading Simon Lappin's free-kick goalwards but 'keeper Phil Smith was right behind City's one on-target effort of the opening half.
Darel Russell and Chris Martin both fired wide as the Canaries stepped up the pace a little, but they had a couple of narrow scrapes just before the interval. First Danny Ward struck a tremendous long-range effort that Forster managed to touch over the top. Then, from the resulting corner by Jon-Paul McGovern, Russell blocked Greer's goalbound header just a couple of yards from the line - a warning of what was to come so late in the game.
Ward, Swindon's best performer, threatened again soon after the break as he wriggled through and forced Forster into action with a right-foot shot, though the challenge from Michael Rose was just enough to take the sting out of his effort.
Rose, enjoying his best game in City colours - or in this case all white - then played a major part as they broke the deadlock after 52 minutes with a superbly-worked goal. Wes Hoolahan and Korey Smith worked the ball to Rose wide on the left and his perfect cross into the six-yard box was met with a firm header by Holt, getting ahead of defender Lecsinel Jean-Francois.
Chris Martin came very close to making it 2-0 on the hour when his free-kick from just outside the area struck the angle of post and crossbar, and two minutes later, Hoolahan found Holt and the skipper let fly from 30 yards but was just off target.
Had either of those efforts gone in, it would probably have finished Swindon off, but they managed to raise their game for the final stages of the match.
Charlie Austin tested Forster from 20 yards, a cross from McGovern whistled across the face of the goal and then Forster saved again from Ward, diving at his left-hand post to smother the shot.
Nelson made a vital clearance to deny Jonathan Douglas the chance of a header in the six-yard box, but as the game entered three minutes of stoppage time, it appeared Swindon were heading for a second successive home defeat.
Forster kept out a curling free-kick from Alan Sheehan, then produced that brilliant save from Douglas, stretching high to his right to palm the ball away for a corner. Disbelief turned to delight, however, as Greer powered in a header from Sheehan's flag-kick to end more than 270 minutes' of Canary resistance, spread over three matches.
It was rough on Forster and his defensive colleagues, but in a roundabout way, Swindon probably deserved it.