SOMETIMES Sod’s Law strikes and you just can’t do anything about it.
For the couple of hundred Town fans who missed 35 minutes, and thereby all the goals, of Swindon’s 2-2 draw at Carlisle on Saturday after being held up by severe delays on the M6 in Lancashire, this particular example must have been difficult to digest.
With the relevant authorities deciding, for whatever reason and in this reporter’s opinion somewhat callously, that the match could not be delayed by perhaps half-an-hour to give those stuck on long-distance coach journeys a little extra time to make their 12-hour, £100 return trip worthwhile, many spent less than an hour at Brunton Park before boarding the buses and trundling back down south.
They had missed an action-packed first half during which former Swindon loanee Jake Jervis twice put the Cumbrians in front, first following up on a poor clearance by Alan McCormack and then volleying through Wes Foderingham’s hands into the roof of the net, only for Town to hit back through Adam Rooney’s first goal for the club and Paul Benson’s neat side-footed finish.
Had those in charge made even the smallest of gestures to the supporters who had forked out significant sums of money to make one of the longest trips in football, no one would have missed a moment of any real importance.
As it was, around 200 fans were denied even the hope of getting through the turnstiles as the whistle went at 3pm, and they had to make do with a second period during which Swindon played intricate and entertaining football without finding the killer touch inside the opposition’s penalty area.
Having not arrived until just after the first goal myself, it’s difficult to give an accurate representation of how Swindon fell behind after 14 minutes.
Carlisle made the most of a moment of good fortune, as McCormack’s clearance fell kindly to Jervis who slotted underneath Foderingham in the Town goal.
As the first half went on, so Town slowly cranked into gear and, after Jervis’ audacious backheeled volley from the edge of the box was comfortably collected by Foderingham, the Robins hauled themselves level.
The equaliser seemed to come out of nowhere. One moment Adam Rooney collected the ball on the top-left of the Carlisle penalty area, the next the ball was lodged in the bottom left-hand corner of Cumbrians goalkeeper Mark Gillespie’s net.
Rooney, who looked sharp during his hour-long spell on the pitch, had produced a fine strike to leave Gillespie no chance.
The 50 or so Swindon fans who had arrived at the ground in time were on their feet. But it took less than a minute for them to be holding their heads in their hands.
An innocuous cross from the right was not properly cleared but, when Jervis connected with the ball outside the area, his stinging volley seemed to be heading straight at Foderingham.
The Town keeper, who earlier in the day had goaded his former teammate on Twitter for an appearance on a Soccer AM segment that morning, appeared to be taken aback by the speed of Jervis’ effort and could only palm the ball into the roof of the net.
Still, Swindon quickly responded in kind.
Carlisle’s defence conveniently parted like the Red Sea to allow Benson to glide into the box and he tucked home a clinical, side-footed finish to cap an extraordinary four minutes at Brunton Park.
As a trickle of away fans clambered into the visitors’ stand in the dying moments of the opening period, they almost saw their side fall behind once again.
Foderingham was on hand to push Matty Robson’s deflected free-kick around a post with two minutes left of the half and, from the resulting corner, the stopper produced a brilliant flying stop to tip Peter Murphy’s header onto the bar.
After the break Swindon quickly developed a rhythm and superiority that they would go on to hold for the rest of the game.
Simon Ferry volleyed over before Gary Roberts’ introduction sparked new life down the left.
Linking well with Jay McEveley, who seemed to thrive with his fellow Scouser in front of him, Roberts tricked and teased Frankie Simek and delivered consistent quality throughout the half.
However, it was from the other side of the pitch that Swindon conjured up their next gilt-edged chance in the 56th minute.
Andy Williams ghosted past his marker and galloped clear on goal. With only Gillespie to beat it seemed certain that the striker, employed on the wing at Brunton Park, would tuck home his first goal as a Robin.
But Williams waited too long to pull the trigger, Gillespie made himself big and was able to block the forward’s dink.
Carlisle’s one chance of note during the second half came in the 66th minute, when substitute Mark Beck somehow contrived to head wide at the back post from Jon-Paul McGovern’s free-kick, but it was an isolated moment of concern in an otherwise comfortable 45 minutes for the visitors.
Two minutes after Beck’s miss, Roberts produced a scything through-ball that left James Collins bearing down on goal. Luckily for Carlisle, Gillespie was quickly off his line to thwart the Republic of Ireland Under 21 international.
But Swindon were not done yet. Darren Ward nodded over from McEveley’s cross from the left and Matt Ritchie drove straight at Gillespie from 25 yards before the Cumbrians keeper made the save that secured his side a point.
Ritchie’s centre from the right drifted to the back post where Roberts got ahead of his marker and side-footed goalwards, only for Gillespie to make a superb point-blank save.
It was at that moment that the draw became inevitable.
For those fans who were neglected by the decision-makers, as can so often happen in the sporting entertainment industry, it was a second half full of promise from a Swindon Town point of view.
But manager Paolo Di Canio was hardly satisfied.
He said: “I’m not the typical manager that after three defeats is worried and then away from home accepts the result and thinks ‘one point, we stop the negative moment’.
“It is a shame not to go away from this ground not only with a win but a win with four or five goals.
“For this I’m not happy and I want to send this mentality to my players because if we think ‘okay, one point, we played better than last week’ that proves that we cleaned the situation but now we have to clean some individuals’ playing mentality.
“This is a genuine and passionate way to be angry, much different to last week, but I am angry anyway because it’s a shame to go out with a point today.
“Everyone saw the game, that is not my opinion, that is a game that should finish six or seven. It’s a shame but one day in the past we used to lose this game, today this is an improvement but it is not enough for me.
“Better one point than zero is easy to say but I have a strong mentality, a different mentality and the players understood and it’s obvious they are disappointed. They feel like they played different football this week and they have to keep going and follow me.
“The opponents always score scrappy goals, rubbish goals against us and we always have to arrive clean. “Obviously if we create that number of chances next time we have to score. If you create eight clear chances, we have to score more.”