LADY Luck is a fickle mistress. Sometimes she’ll smother you with gifts on days you really don’t deserve them, on others she’ll treat you with utter disdain.
Unfortunately for Swindon Town, who totally battered second-placed Doncaster for the vast majority of this League One fixture, they came across the dame in one of her petulant moods.
After taking the lead through Matt Ritchie’s eighth goal of the campaign the Robins soon found themselves level, courtesy of Danny Hollands’ own goal, and then rattled post and crossbar, found Donny keeper Gary Woods in inspired form and failed to convert a handful of glorious chances as they went a third consecutive game without a win.
It’s naïve, of course, to blame fortune entirely. Swindon must learn to be more clinical in front of goal if they are to stand any chance of maintaining a play-off challenge this term.
But when they really needed the crossbar to be two inches higher or a post two inches wider or ricochets to fall safely or crosses to get that decisive touch everything went against them.
Doncaster came into the match off the back of four straight league wins, during which time they had crept up into second place with all the stealth of a ninja spy, but by the 70th minute manager Dean Saunders had resorted to all-out defence as they protected a valuable point.
The 4-5-1 formation employed by the Welshman for the final quarter of the game, with diminutive frontman Iain Hume playing alone up front and three defenders plugging midfield, was a backhanded compliment to Town’s potency in the middle third.
However, matches are not won in midfield and in the areas that mattered Swindon came up short.
That’s not to say the overall performance was poor, or even average. In fact it was pretty good.
Donny, themselves targeting automatic promotion to the Championship, were happy to focus on sponge-like defending as they soaked up everything the Robins threw at them.
After the game Saunders said Swindon remain one of the favourites to go up. It’s quite obvious what needs to be addressed if that is really the case.
Town started brightly and took the lead in the eighth minute.
Andy Williams appeared to miscontrol the ball 20 yards out but still managed to slither past his marker and to the by-line. His intelligent pull-back fell nicely into Ritchie’s path and the winger produced a clinical side-footed finish beyond Woods.
Paolo Di Canio has said in recent weeks that an early goal at the County Ground should cue a convincing Swindon win, but within two minutes Town were back to square one.
James Husband jinked down the Donny left, crossed neatly into the area and, after the ball took a slight deflection off Aden Flint, Hollands found his legs in a knot and Doncaster celebrating him putting through his own net.
In the season of goodwill it was the most generous of gifts for the visitors.
Quickly Swindon were back into their stride. In the 13th minute Williams galloped from the right into the area only to hit a tame shot at Woods, while Raffa De Vita also tried his luck without success.
At the other end, it took until the 23rd minute for Doncaster to muster a shot of their own. Ritchie was too casual in trying to bring the ball down inside his own box and Hume latched onto his lazy touch, his 18-yard drive flying just wide of Foderingham’s left-hand post.
It was an isolated moment of panic for Town. With eight minutes left before half-time Hollands came within inches of making amends for his own goal when he met De Vita’s cross to head against the angle between post and bar, while Williams couldn’t beat Woods from the rebound.
Five minutes later, after Bostock had also tested Woods, it was Chris Martin’s turn to hold his head in his hands in frustration.
Williams cushioned a cross from the right into his strike partner’s path and Martin crashed a shot against the woodwork. Somehow the scores were level at the break.
In the second half Swindon showed no sign of letting up. Within seconds of the restart Ritchie’s corner flashed across the face of goal, avoiding the outstretched legs of Joe Devera, Darren Ward and Williams while, 11 minutes later, the wide man’s looping header fell into Woods’ arms.
Still no second goal, and on the hour Town missed another golden chance to steal the lead.
Paul Quinn’s errant backpass should have seen Williams round Woods but, despite appearing to beat the Donny keeper to the ball, the Swindon frontman failed to get the crucial touch.
From then on in Woods seemed unbeatable.
He dived to his right to hold onto Devera’s flying header from Ritchie’s wicked cross before preventing Ritchie from celebrating a 30-yard piledriver with another excellent stop.
As much as Woods was keeping his team in the game, Town weren’t doing themselves any favours in front of goal either, summed up by Gary Roberts’ failure to get a shot off when Nathan Thompson picked him out with a clever low cross with 13 minutes remaining.
Doncaster approached Swindon’s half like a toddler would a lion’s enclosure, the visitors’ trepidation reflecting Town’s total superiority, but there was one final nervous moment for the home side when David Cotterill’s free-kick almost squeezed under Wes Foderingham.
And with that the last notable chance for either side came and went. A frustrating draw greeted by polite applause from the County Ground crowd.
Di Canio was predictably unhappy with his forward’s limp finishing, stressing once more how he had asked for another striker during the emergency loan window.
He said: “Obviously we’re disappointed because we always want to win, especially when we dominate the game, but unfortunately I have to tell you that there is not a big disappointment in terms of the feeling because I started to say something two months ago and now I’m prepared for this.
“I can’t push the ball inside the goal. They were one and a half times inside our box and one goal.
“This is probably the game where more than in the last year and a half, we were more often in the opponents’ box.
“What do I have to do?
“This was claimed by me one month and a half ago and the people were angry, the people were sad. I encourage my players, I told them well done for 90 per cent of them.
“The system is there, they were professional, the physical conditioning is there – it’s clear from far away.
“But the final action which has to see the ball in the net I can’t change.
“I can try to persuade them to be more nasty but what can I do if we don’t push the head forward to risk something?
“The quality is the quality.
“One month ago I told you that I asked for a nasty striker but now we can’t have one.
“We’re looking for a positive in terms of professionalism because it’s important that we keep going and behave like we did today.
“In this was I was more than happy. I told them 90 pert of them were fantastic but probably we have to improve in delivering some balls.
“We stayed 20 times in the opponents’ box and we don’t look dangerous sometimes, the opponents arrive once in our half because they have more experience and more quality.
“With Doncaster it was clear.
“The positive is that our job, the technical staff’s job, is there.
“These are the pillars.
“The mechanism is there and we dominated.
“We gave exactly the details about our opponents and we didn’t miss one detail.
“The starting XI we predicted before, there wasn’t any surprise.”