LAST week Swindon Town manager Paolo Di Canio said he would be happy for once to pick up three points, however they came, from the trip to Oldham. On Saturday he got what he wanted.
On a gloomy day at Boundary Park, the Italian’s players utterly dominated their Latics counterparts in a scrappy and for the most part ugly affair in Greater Manchester.
That’s not to say the Robins’ display wasn’t effective, as several players emerged from 90 minutes of at times torturous football with great credit, but this was not the free-flowing stuff that many fans crave.
However, that style had only brought one point from the last two outings. By bullying an abject Oldham in their own back yard, Town claimed a useful maximum to lift them into seventh place in League One.
It was quickly evident that the hosts’ defence could not deal with the incisive runs of Andy Williams and Chris Martin up front and Matt Ritchie and Raffa De Vita out wide and De Vita’s two first-half goals were enough for the Robins to claim victory.
Oldham produced a performance that reflected the strangely subdued atmosphere at Boundary Park – an eerie, mumbling home support that grew ever angrier with each misplaced pass and heavy touch.
The Latics appeared to lack confidence, belief, creativity, composure and class. On the other hand, while Swindon were not on top form, they exhibited each of the necessary character traits.
As the game meandered towards its denouement, Town eased down the gears until the match was reduced to walking pace. With striker Robbie Simpson replacing Alex Cisak in goal for Oldham after the latter received a nasty cut to the head, Swindon were guilty of not pushing hard enough for more goals.
But that’s a moot point. It was comprehensive and, for the 297 fans who made the trip up north, ultimately satisfying.
It took 10 minutes for either side to muster a shot on target, with Williams curling tamely at Cisak from the edge of the area before, four minutes later, Ritchie had a golden chance to fire the Robins in front.
De Vita crossed neatly from the left and the ball evaded the diving Cisak, leaving Ritchie with a tap-in at the back post but the winger could not adjust his body in time and fired over from close range.
In the 17th minute Ritchie was back at it, curling a cross-cum-shot at Cisak from the top left corner of the penalty area before the former Portsmouth man’s fizzing free-kick deflected off Dean Furman and out for a corner.
For all their endeavours, Swindon were struggling to open up Oldham’s flimsy defence. However, with 18 minutes to go before half-time, De Vita made the most of a piece of good luck to score the visitors’ first.
Ritchie, involved in everything positive from a Town point of view in the first half, whipped in a cross from the right, the ball fell into De Vita’s path and he reacted quickly to shoot below Cisak.
Three minutes later Swindon and De Vita had their second.
Again the goal had an element of fortune about it, but De Vita did well to cut in front of his marker to get to Nathan Thompson’s neat centre and his deflected effort completely wrong-footed Cisak.
The Robins should have been three up at the break, but Joe Devera sent his diving header over from six yards when unmarked inside the box, while Alan McCormack fired horribly wide in the dying moments of the first half.
Oldham, who failed to muster a single shot at goal in the opening 45 minutes, were booed off disdainfully at the interval. It was a back-handed compliment to a Swindon side set up well and totally in control of their opponents.
After half-time Oldham began to find their feet, and Matt Derbyshire drew a sarcastic cheer from the home support when he sent a pathetic, dribbling effort from 18 yards into Foderingham’s arms after 49 minutes.
Jose Baxter produced a similar reaction from the crowd three minutes later, but Oldham lacked potency and Town never looked troubled.
The game settled back into a rhythm of tedium, as Swindon appeared happy to settle for a 2-0 win safe in the knowledge that they could rip their hosts to pieces at will.
Oldham’s frustrations were illustrated by Derbyshire’s absurd effort from inside his own half, which almost trickled out for a throw-in.
After Cisak was withdrawn following a collision with Williams, stand-in stopper Simpson was only called into action with his hands once – to punch a Matt Ritchie cross to safety.
Otherwise Swindon seemed content to prod and poke at the Oldham defence without trying to tear it to pieces. Gary Roberts fired over, Ritchie had a shot blocked, Tommy Miller’s free-kick hit the wall.
By the end of seven minutes of stoppage time the game had almost ground to a halt. Still, three points cannot be sniffed at.
“In the last three games we fully deserved much more,” said Di Canio after the game.
“Today we got what we deserved. It’s three points, we’ll keep going, the lads were good and I’m happy because also Danny Hollands and Chris Martin started to understand how to play under me.
“The mechanism worked better today. Today we’re happy. The first chance we took, the second chance we took again and then we had another four clear chances we didn’t take. Today I have to be only happy because the last two times we dominated even more clearly than today and we took only on point.
“Today it was important that we took the first real chance. It happens often in this league – if you go 1-0 up 90 per cent of the time you’re going to win the game. Today it was clear that we are a better side than them.
“I told my players in the second half that I hoped they could save their energy for Tranmere and some goals. At that moment of the game it looked to me that we felt guilty for some reason because they were without a goalkeeper and we didn’t have one shot in 25 minutes. That didn’t make me really happy.
“But I told them, if it was just a way to go through and keep some goals for the next game it was very good. I discovered another part of my players.”