THE famous saying says ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’. It only took one to ruin Swindon Town’s extraordinary unbeaten home run on Saturday.
Lee Cook popped up with a 59th-minute winner to ensure Leyton Orient secured their first League One points of the 2012/13 campaign and inflicted Town’s first defeat at the County Ground since August 30 last year, as the Robins misfired on all cylinders during 90 forgettable minutes at SN1.
After the losses at Preston and Oxford over the course of the past eight days, Town’s homecoming was meant to signal a change in fortunes for Paolo Di Canio’s men.
Swindon had not been overturned in Wiltshire since Southampton claimed a 3-1 win in the League Cup more than 12 months previously and goalkeeper Wes Foderingham had not picked the ball out of a County Ground net since Matt Richards scored in vain for Shrewsbury in February.
However, the fortress was well and truly sieged by an unexceptional Orient team that had evidently done their homework on Di Canio’s Robins, leaving the Town boss to count the psychological and practical costs of a rare home loss under his regime.
Swindon looked bereft of ideas and at a loss as to how to counter Orient’s physical, if a little haphazard gameplan.
And the home side ended up creating not much more than a handful of half-chances as the east Londoners won at the County Ground for the fourth time in their last seven visits.
The early warning signs for Town came at a rapid rate.
Federico Bessone provided the crucial clearance inside the first three minutes as Kevin Lisbie and Cook combined to open up the home defence, while Swindon had to withstand a series of early Orient corners as the visitors opened up with more pace and attacking intent than their hosts.
In the early exchanges a pattern would be set from which the majority of the match would follow, with Town harried and hassled and pressed continuously upfield – to which the Robins had no answer.
It took until the 18th minute for the home team to muster their first attacking move of any real note.
When it came the omens were there that Town could split the Orient defence in two with an incisive, flowing passage of play that moved quickly from midfield to attack only for Raffa De Vita’s goalbound shot to be deflected to safety by Leon McSweeney.
But after that, goalmouth incident was as rare as an oasis in the desert. Swindon could not find the fluency or the control to dictate proceedings in the middle of the park, where Alan Navarro and Tommy Miller worked hard for little reward, and by the time the half-hour ticked over on the new Stratton Bank scoreboard only Dean Cox’s pathetic shot from range – which bobbled out for a throw-in – could vaguely claim to have entertained the 8,000-strong crowd.
Moments later, Orient should have seized the advantage.
Michael Symes should have beaten Foderingham when Cook’s cut-back fell into his path but the visiting striker contrived to miskick his effort, which dribbled out tamely for a goal-kick.
Matt Ritchie saw his shot blocked at the other end but Swindon seemed laboured in possession and seven minutes before half-time should have found themselves behind once again.
This time Kevin Lisbie was the guilty party, heading wide from Gary Sawyer’s cross from the left when he was allowed to roam free inside the Town penalty area.
That Swindon had been able to see the game through to half-time goalless was a credit to the footballing gods.
While Orient had been little better than average they had been made to look like world-beaters.
After the break, the Robins had to adapt or face the consequences.
For a few minutes after the interval they appeared to have turned the corner. Twice Ritchie cut inside from the right to fire straight at Ryan Allsop in the Orient goal as the hosts began to impress themselves on proceedings.
But any thoughts the County Ground audience had of their heroes turning the corner proved fanciful just before the hour mark.
McSweeney advanced down the right and crossed and, while Cox’s connection was minimal, the ball spun slowly to the back post.
Joe Devera was unable to make the clearance and there was Cook to sidefoot gleefully beyond Foderingham.
A stunned hush descended on the County Ground. ‘This doesn’t happen here’.
It needed a spark to rekindle the embers that had ground out a win against MK Dons and torn apart Stoke in the past month.
To be fair to Town they improved after the break but those fleeting flames were quickly extinguished by a series of misplaced passes and over-ambitious long balls down the channels which left the strikers chasing crusts for comfort.
Nevertheless, Swindon should have been on level terms with 23 minutes remaining.
Almost immediately after being introduced as a substitute, Adam Rooney was set clear and appeared to be tugged back by Nathan Clarke.
To his credit, or detriment – depending on opinion, Rooney shrugged off Clarke’s attention and bore down on Allsop’s goal only to see his shot trickle well wide.
At the other end, Cox sent a fizzing, dipping free-kick marginally over as Foderingham scrambled to his right. The visitors remained potent on the counter.
Tension and aggravation mixed inside the County Ground. With the sun glaring the fourth official’s subs board was ineffectual and Di Canio was incensed as Orient’s changes seemed to last a lifetime.
With six minutes of normal time left Town conjured up perhaps their best chance of the game, Ritchie and Simon Ferry combining to free up Devera inside the box.
Rather than fire across goal, however, the right-back opted for glory. His shot cannoned into the side-netting at the near post.
With that, Town’s chances had gone.
Cook rubbed an ocean’s worth of salt into Swindon’s gaping wound with his slow-motion exit as he was substituted late on and, after six minutes of added time produced nothing but false promises, the Robins’ players, management and fans were left to reflect on a third straight defeat for only the second time since Di Canio has been in charge.