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SWINDON TOWN: Draw is a damp squib after action-packed week at the County Ground
AT the end of a fortnight stuffed with panic, pandemonium and Sir William Patey, this was about as underwhelming an anti-climax as anyone associated with Swindon Town could possibly have anticipated.
To be honest, even matching the intensity of 14 days which included the revelations of a transfer embargo, a tremendous comeback against Coventry, the removal of former chairman Jeremy Wray, the appointment of a former high-ranking diplomat in his place and the subsequent speculation over manager Paolo Di Canio’s future would have been a decent effort.
But instead the County Ground crowd were treated, nay subjected, to an occasion that lacked substance or style and which ended, disappointingly, in stalemate.
Swindon were not poor, but they were classy neither. Despite possessing quite evidently more ability on the ball and more fitness off it, the Robins failed to secure the kind of win they really must be making second nature if they are to have realistic aspirations of promotion from League One this season.
Aden Flint’s sending-off, for two unnecessary yellow cards within 15 minutes of each other, gave the visitors the lifeline they so desperately needed; such was the gulf in class in the half-hour before the centre-back’s dismissal.
By that time Town were already a goal ahead, thanks to James Collins’ fine finish at the end of a swift and devastating move which ripped the Scunny defence apart.
But having to play the best part of 65 minutes with 10 men took its toll, even on Di Canio’s uber-fit squad.
Passes went astray from time to time, decision-making was not as intelligent as it should have been and in the end all it took was one moment of quality from a visiting player to split the points between the sides.
Karl Hawley, otherwise anonymous and living up to a scoring record of just 16 goals in 159 appearances since he left Carlisle in 2007, produced a brilliant, deft header from Mark Duffy’s right-wing cross to beat Wes Foderingham.
With Swindon continuing to be alarmingly profligate at the other end, as Darren Ward, Adam Rooney and Gary Roberts all spurned glorious chances to score Town’s second, Scunny were able to hold on – despite having the man advantage – for a valuable point.
It’s impossible to say whether the boardroom reshuffle has sent even the weakest of shockwaves through the dressing room – every player who has been asked insists the reverberations are well above their heads, but it was hardly inspiring.
As ever, Town started brightly.
Jay McEveley, Paul Benson and James Collins produced a slick passing move down the left in the third minute, only for Collins to see his shot blocked, before referee Pat Miller waved away Nathan Thompson’s claims for a penalty when he toppled dramatically in the penalty area.
Scunny briefly threatened when Leon Clarke, returning to his old stropping ground and soaking up a torrent of tantrum-related chants from the Swindon fans, headed Jimmy Ryan’s cross over the bar - but the hosts quickly raced back into the ascendancy.
McEveley was livid that his superb, fizzing cross wasn’t turned home in the 15th minute, but less than three minutes later Swindon had the lead.
Collins started the move wide on the right, feeding Matt Ritchie inside him who in turn laid the ball onto Simon Ferry.
Ferry’s pass to Benson was neatly flicked on by the frontman to his strike partner, who cut inside the diving challenge of Paul Reid to slide beneath Chris Slocombe.
It was a stunning team effort, and for a few short seconds reminded the Swindon players, management and fans exactly how good they are.
Eight minutes after taking the lead, the Robins should have opened up a sizeable advantage.
Ferry’s inch-perfect pass sent Ritchie clear through on goal, only for Slocombe to make himself big and take ball and man in one inglorious bundle.
Swindon seemed to be in cruise control, easing the ball around midfield and leaving their guests chasing shadows. However, with 12 minutes left of the first half, the balance of the game shifted.
Flint, already booked for a careless lunge on Clarke, appeared to trip the former Town striker as he went through on goal. Despite the protestations of his teammates, referee Miller handed him his standing orders. Suddenly Swindon had to regroup.
Alan McCormack replaced Benson, leaving Collins to run the channels alone, and having reached the break still in front Town faced another 45 minutes of hard graft.
Three minutes into the second period Ward sent a glancing header from Tommy Miller’s corner wide of Slocombe’s goal. It was a miss that was to prove costly.
Hawley may hardly be the most menacing of prospects given his goals-per-game ratio but out of nowhere he popped up with the leveller 11 minutes after the interval.
Clarke, given too much time in possession, picked out Duffy on the right. Duffy, given too much time in possession, swung in a delicious to the near post. Hawley, yep you’ve guessed it, crept in front of Ward to head home.
Swindon heads dropped, minds switched off and two minutes later they were almost behind.
Clarke wriggled free in the area and lashed goalwards, only for Foderingham to leap to his right and push the ball to safety.
After their momentary paralysis, Town soon clicked back into gear and started to dominate territory and possession.
But with 10 minutes remaining Scunthorpe again came within a whisker of snatching victory.
Duffy split Swindon’s back four in two with a scything through-ball and substitute Andy Barcham bore down on goal.
The winger beat Foderingham with a delicate chip but could not direct it inside the Town stopper’s right-hand post. It was a major let-off and the visitors’ last chance of any real note.
Instead, for the final 10 minutes, Swindon flooded forward in search of a winner of their own.
Rooney should have had one when he dragged his shot wide when played clear by Ritchie’s header, but Roberts’ miss two minutes earlier was even more wasteful.
Troy Archibald-Henville nodded Miller’s corner into the wide man’s path and, six yards from goal and unmarked, Roberts could only sidefoot volley over.
It summed up the afternoon.
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