PAOLO Di Canio is a prophet. In the build-up to last night’s clash between his Swindon Town side and Brentford at the County Ground the Italian had aired his worries that the 4-1 victory over Yeovil on Saturday may have caused his players to relax too much as they prepared for the visit of the Bees.
And somehow he managed to see into the future, as the Robins were unable to deal with a Brentford strategy that was a credit to its German architect, Uwe Rosler.
The west London outfit came into the game with brute force as their major weapon. Like Sheffield United before them they went at Swindon with aggression and Town couldn’t adapt accordingly.
The Robins were wasteful throughout the 90 minutes on a rain-soaked surface at SN1 and, though Brentford were only slightly more impressive with ball at feet, they managed the all-important breakthrough in the 59th minute when Clayton Donaldson smashed home the winner.
After an underwhelming opening 10 minutes, Brentford enjoyed the first sight of goal when Donaldson broke from halfway and pulled the trigger from 20 yards, only for Wes Foderingham to leap to his left to turn the ball to safety.
Swindon struggled to manipulate possession into anything that resembled a meaningful chance in the opening quarter.
The closest the Robins came was when James Collins failed to control Gary Roberts’ neat reverse pass which would have had the striker bearing down on goal.
With the ball dividing its time equally between the turf and the damp Tuesday night air, neither side were covering themselves in glory from a purist’s point of view.
This was the pugilist side of the game. Rough and ready and unrefined, a series of little punches in midfield as both teams looked for the all-important knockout blow.
Former Swindon captain Jonathan Douglas took the term all too literally in the 27th minute, poleaxing his opposite number Simon Ferry in halfway and earning a yellow card for his troubles.
Bookings don’t usually warrant a paragraph of their own in match reports, particularly not in those involving Paolo Di Canio’s Swindon Town over the course of the past 18 months.
But there was an utter dearth of creativity and quality. The ball spent more time in the sky than a British Airways pilot, at heights that would have made even Felix Baumgartner a little dizzy.
Only Douglas seemed capable of keeping possession on the floor but his Brentford teammates lacked his composure and, though the Bees were marginally the better team in the opening period, it was Town who almost grabbed a half-time lead.
First, in the 41st minute, Chris Martin saw his savage 20-yard drive pushed wide by Simon Moore in the Brentford goal and a minute later the same player’s volley from close range was blocked on the line by a visiting defender, while Matt Ritchie was unable to lash home the rebound.
It was a frantic end to an otherwise down-tempo first half and both sides came out for the second period with similar intent.
At one end, Douglas sent a pathetic effort from range well wide before Roberts latched onto an errant pass from the Bees midfielder and delivered a delicious low cross that neither Martin nor Collins were able to stab home.
Jay McEveley, again one of Town’s most reliable players on the night, picked out the forehead of Simon Ferry in the 54th minute but the Scot could only nod wide and Swindon were made to pay for failing to take their chances in the 58th minute.
Paul Hayes managed to pick out Donaldson and the former Crewe forward created space in the area to thrash a left-footed effort beyond Foderingham, who had no chance from close range.
Town immediately surged forward in search of an equaliser and, after Ritchie saw his 20-yard drive deflected out for a corner, the winger’s cross was headed over by Martin.
But quickly Swindon’s play regained its unwanted, stodgy qualities. Too many long balls down the channels, not enough to feet.
A direct result of a gameplan of disruption employed by Brentford? Or a comedown after the buzz of the weekend win? Who knows, but it was desperately disappointing.
Di Canio tried midfield pairings of Ferry and Hollands and Hollands and Bostock, but neither were able to take control quite like the Ferry-Bostock axis has in recent weeks.
Up front Martin, Collins and Storey all worked hard but that magic spark that lit up the County Ground on Saturday was nowhere to be seen.
Instead the Robins reverted to the type most associated with their home performances of the past eight weeks.
Crosses were underhit, overhit and mishit and when one of the home team finally did manage a pin-point centre – Ritchie in the 88th minute – Martin could only nod a free header wide, unmarked from six yards out.
The natives grew restless. Martin headed over again as the hosts tried every angle possible to sneak through the Brentford defence but the goal was not forthcoming.
It’s one home league win in six now for Town, but the statistics aren’t the damning factor. Di Canio could see this performance coming, it’s a shame he was right.