Football: Safety first suits Swindon

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Norwich City. . .0

Swindon Town. . .0

IN THEIR fifth outing Swindon Town earned their first point in English football's top division, and must now start working to secure some more. The tactics, or tactic - for there was only one - was entirely negative, but it didn't bother their colourful fans, who seemed to sense that they are not long for these Himalayan climes and are determined to enjoy the thin air while they may.

That apart, it was an afternoon of profound anticlimax, especially for the frustrated Norwich, who as everyone else will be this season, would have been slavering at the thought of the Premiership's whipping boys driving up the motorway. Confronted by another side packed with passers, the Canaries proved that prettiness can produce stalemate just as easily as 22 heavyweights thumping the hide off the ball. It was all as elegant as the flouncy sleeves of a couple of duellists: stylish but ineffectual, a case of popguns at dawn.

In almost every respect apart from the important one, these two clubs are in the same boat. Stuck out on a rural limb where the only thing that doesn't grow on the trees are football fans, under a succession of right-thinking managers they have had to make ends meet by breeding neat footballers and selling them to the big cities. The big difference is that Norwich have been doing it at the top level for years, and are getting so good at it that last year they nearly walked off with the big prize.

Swindon joined the party this year but no sooner had they got through the entrance than everyone was showing them the exit. How galling for Norwich, then, after a series of impressive wins, to come up against a Swindon who have suddenly bucked their ideas up. The visitors played out the best part of the first half with annoying circumspection. The sweeper system, which clearly had not been working since the departure of player-manager Glenn Hoddle, was yesterday sacrificed for a more redoubtable back five. The result was fewer scares at the back but fewer flutters up front.

Only when the Canaries' captain Ian Butterworth had to leave the field on the half hour, pulling Rob Newman back from midfield into central defence, did Swindon show something like ambition. A sweetly struck shot from Kevin Horlock produced an even more impressive tip around the post from Bryan Gunn, who dived out well a minute later to hold a dangerous cross from Mickey Hazard. Just before half-time John Moncur should have made more of a half chance created by Ian Culverhouse's lapse.

For their part, Norwich were non-plussed by Swindon's measured efforts at containment. Ruel Fox was his usual busy bee, beating several opponents before sending over a cross that was far too weak to be of any use to the waiting Chris Sutton. John Polston struck the post, but another shot from Jeremy Goss hit Shaun Taylor in the face and goalkeeper Fraser Digby comfortably held a blast from Newman.

After the resumption the football was no less polite, and chances were even harder to come by. This time last year Mark Robins had already scored a hatful. He is goal-less in five games this season and it was only sentimentality that saw him loudly applauded as he made way for the unfairly booed Efan Ekoku. Robins consistently outjumped the much taller Taylor, but to no avail. His best effort lopped lazily over the bar, and soon after that he was off.

Swindon had another couple of moments but let themselves down at the crucial moment. Moncur had the opening of the match but managed to shoot straight across the goal.

As the whistle drew near, Norwich resorted to direct methods, as they sometimes do. A huge clearance from Gunn filtered straight through to Sutton, who hammered a left-foot volley on the turn straight at Digby. As soon as he ended the game the referee had to separate the players, who showed more heat and urgency than they had all afternoon.

Norwich (4-4-2): B Gunn; J Polston, I Culverhouse, I Butterworth (G Megson, 27 min), M Bowen; R Fox, R Newman, I Crook, J Goss; M Robins (E Ekoku, 66 min), C Sutton. Sub not used: S Howie (gk). Manager: M Walker.

Swindon Town (5-4-1): F Digby; L Nijholt, S Taylor, R Maclaren, A Whitbread, K Horlock; N Summerbee, M Hazard, J Moncur, M Ling; A Mutch (J A Fjortoft 82). Subs not used: N Hammond (gk), C Maskell. Manager: J Gorman.

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow).