Swansea City 2 Aston Villa 2: Danny Graham saves wasteful Swans
NOT often will a team equalise in stoppage time and still feel frustrated.
But that was the strange sensation for Swansea City yesterday as they kicked off 2013 with a remarkable 2-2 draw against Aston Villa.
Swansea should have won, but were seconds away from losing.
It could have been better, but it might also have been worse.
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Defeat here would have been as painful as they come, not because of Villa's woeful form coming into the game, but because Swansea were so dominant in spells that Paul Lambert's men might have been on the end of another festive thrashing.
A second successive victory would have been nothing more than Swansea deserved.
Yet Michael Laudrup must take some pleasure from the draw given that Swansea were staring at yet another loss to Lambert until Danny Graham struck in the fourth minute of added time.
There were five changes to the Swansea side which began the weekend win at Fulham, with Michel Vorm, Chico Flores, Ben Davies, Leon Britton and fit-again Michu recalled.
Swansea's star of the season began behind Danny Graham in what looked like something close to Laudrup's strongest side right now.
This was a game the manager targeted even before Christmas as one he wanted to win.
And his side seemed intent on delivering all three points from the outset.
In fact, such was Swansea's dominance in the early stages that the contest might have been all over after 11 minutes.
By then Laudrup's men might have scored four goals, but they managed only one.
There were only three minutes on the clock when Swansea sliced through the Villa defence, Routledge tricking Matthew Lowton in the centre circle and then racing clear.
But with only Brad Guzan to beat, Routledge scuffed his shot and the Villa keeper saved.
Just six minutes later Routledge got the chance to make amends as Pablo Hernandez's ball sent him scampering in behind once again.
This time the winger made no mistake, going round Guzan and stroking his fifth goal of the season into the empty net.
Villa had conceded 15 goals in their previous three games, and they were wobbling again here.
Within 60 seconds Swansea were in again, Michu picking off a loose ball but drilling his shot against the post.
Next Graham came within inches of doubling Swansea's advantage, the striker firing just past the upright after Hernandez's clever pull-back.
Only 11 breathless minutes had passed.
Villa were like rabbits in the headlights but, for all their dominance, Swansea could not find the second goal.
Even Ashley Williams was getting in on the act in the final third, the centre-back feeding Michu on the edge of the box.
He turned brilliantly away from his marker, but once more his shot came back off the post.
This time the rebound fell invitingly to Hernandez, but his half-volley flashed across the face and Villa were off the hook once more.
Villa had barely been in the contest, though Christian Benteke was a useful outlet for Paul Lambert's team.
The big Belgian warmed the palms of Vorm on a rare breakaway midway through the first half, and just before the interval he laid on the unlikeliest of equalisers.
Fed by Benteke, Andreas Weimann finished in style from 20 yards, sending a crisp low drive beyond Vorm and into the far corner of the net.
Swansea might have been out of sight earlier in the piece, yet now they were back to square one.
The second half began with Swansea on the front foot once again — although clear-cut chances were proving a little harder to come by now.
Hernandez almost got on the end of a deep Routledge cross, then Graham fired invitingly across the face but there was nobody in white on hand to tap the ball home.
After Michu's header was easily gathered by Guzan, Swansea screamed for a penalty when Joe Bennett handled as he tried to close down Angel Rangel.
The assistant referee flagged for the offence — but Swansea were awarded a free-kick right on the edge of the box when replays suggested it was committed just inside the area.
The hosts could consider themselves unfortunate — although it was a very tight call.
Hernandez floated the dead ball to the far post and Williams's header was pawed clear by Guzan.
As in the first half, Villa's threat had been limited.
Yet Benteke was proving to be a handful for Laudrup's rearguard whenever the ball was pumped forward in his direction.
Williams did well to block Benteke's 72nd-minute shot, then watched on in relief as Weimann's effort flashed across the face and away to safety.
Back came Swansea, with Hernandez looking the man most likely to carve out a winner.
The Spanish international skated round Lowton and tried to place a shot in the far corner, but once more Guzan saved.
Then came the goal which looked for a long time like winning it for Villa.
Benteke's muscle earned Villa a corner, and he rose to meet the flag-kick with a header which Nathan Dyer kicked off the line.
Dyer then tried to clear the danger completely by closing down Weimann, but he caught the leg of the Austrian and Mark Halsey pointed to the spot.
Penalty killer Vorm could not work his magic this time, the Dutchman diving left as Benteke fired the ball right, and Villa somehow found themselves six minutes away from victory.
Swansea poured forward in search of an equaliser, and four minutes into stoppage time they got one.
Dyer's low cross took a couple of ricochets before Ki Sung-Yueng teed up Graham.
His first shot was blocked, but his second effort, a beautifully struck volley, flashed past Guzan and into the net.
Graham's second goal in as many games was the least Swansea deserved.