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SWINDON SUPERMARINE 0 SWINDON TOWN 1: Town take a backward step
AFTER all the encouragement of recent weeks, with goals galore and steadily improving performances, this seemed to be something of a backward step.
Despite dominating possession and territory at the Webbs Wood Stadium, Swindon Town just couldn’t find the necessary fluency and potency to ram home their statistical superiority over Swindon Supermarine.
The Robins never seemed to be able to yank themselves out of second gear on a frustrating evening at their near neighbours as, while chances were created, they never reached the sort of levels that had Weston-super-Mare and Forest Green chasing shadows of late.
Tommy Miller provided the only goal of the game after 15 minutes with a delicate finish from Alan Navarro’s free-kick, while Andy Williams twice hit the woodwork in the second half.
But the lack of a cutting edge up front was conspicuous for the first time this summer, as golden chances edged into double figures but the scoreboard remained the same.
Sure, it may well prove to be a one-off. Quite frankly, following recent displays, this was certainly out of character. But manager Paolo Di Canio was not impressed and with good reason.
Barring a few isolated moments his team lacked the verve and finesse that he has strived to instil in his players since he arrived in Wiltshire this summer.
Swindon have the chance to rectify what is likely to be the slightest of blips when they travel to Salisbury on Friday night.
You would expect them to do exactly that.
Paul Benson enjoyed Town’s first attempt in the third minute but his dipping, 18-yard effort was easily saved by Ian Gill in the Marine goal.
The former Charlton striker had another opening four minutes later but took too long deciding where to place his shot after Gary Roberts laid the ball into his path inside the hosts’ penalty area.
Though Supermarine hassled and harried their guests in the early moments, it did not take long for Town to breach their defences and, surprise surprise, the goal came as a result of a choreographed dead ball routine.
Twice already this summer, at Weston-super-Mare and in the clash with a local select XI out in Italy, the Robins have used a set piece cleverly and to their advantage.
And they continued that trend with their first attacking free-kick of the evening.
Roberts was hacked to the ground 20 yards from goal and left of centre, Navarro’s teasing but gentle cross evaded the Marine backline and Miller glided in to slip the ball beyond Gill.
It was a neat finish and gave an indication of what Miller could add to the Town team over the coming months.
By the time 20 minutes had passed, Marine were struggling to find the emergency exit from their own half.
Long balls failed to pick out their targets and, when they did, Troy Archibald-Henville and Alan McCormack continued to show an assured presence at the heart of Town’s defence.
Going forward, the Robins were nowhere near as fluent as they were in the first halves of the clashes with Weston and Forest Green in recent weeks.
With 24 minutes gone, Benson collected Williams’ flick-on and released Matt Ritchie down the right. Ritchie’s first attempt at a cross was easily cut out but he quickly picked out Navarro from the rebound, and the former Brighton man should have done better than drag his shot wide of Gill’s left-hand post.
Three minutes later Town were at it again.
Navarro’s dead ball was accurate but Archibald-Henville couldn’t quite provide the killer touch, unmarked at the back post, as his bullet header was brilliantly saved by Gill.
While it was the opposing goalkeeper who was to credit for keeping the visitors out on that occasion, Town had only themselves to blame moments later.
Ritchie collected Roberts’ cross on the right-hand side of the box, looked up to see Benson on his own and four yards from goal and played the ball right into the path of the former Charlton striker.
However, Benson fluffed his lines, scuffed his effort and the ball dribbled out for a goal kick.
The away side had to make do with a single goal cushion at the interval but went within inches of doubling their lead three minutes after the break.
Williams galloped down the left and, seeing Gill some way off his line, attempted an absurdly difficult chip.
Gill was beaten but, as he thrashed thin air in his desperate backtracking, he was relieved to see Williams’ effort rebound off the crossbar and away to safety.
Town’s former Yeovil striker seemed full of confidence in front of goal and three minutes later he tried an even more audacious volleyed lob on the turn, which did not quite dip enough to embarrass Gill.
Marine briefly threatened at the other end, with Ashley Edenborough seeing his shot blocked by Aden Flint, but their moments in Town territory remained rare and brief.
At the other end, substitute Raffa De Vita handed Di Canio yet another glimpse of his abilities, dancing with an assured grace around three challenges before sauntering into the area and exchanging a neat one-two with Miles Storey.
It seemed as though the former Livingston man would cap 10 seconds of brilliance with a simple tap-in but he was left frustrated as Marine’s trialist goalkeeper produced a superb point-blank range to deny him.
De Vita, evidently in the mood for a little extravagance, attempted a bicycle kick from Miller’s flicked through-ball five minutes later but the effort drifted well wide as Town’s fluency slowly leaked away as the half dragged on.
Oliver Risser almost shattered the tedium with 10 minutes remaining, but his attempt from 20 yards brought a comfortable save.
Town were far from at their potent best.
Collins nodded De Vita’s whipped cross from the right past the Marine right-hand post before the striker curled a tame effort straight at the home keeper five minutes before the end, Louis Thompson lashed wildly over and Storey failed to bury when clean through.
Di Canio was frustrated.
“I know them and some of them were at 30 per cent of their desire and commitment,” he said.
“I don’t know why but the fact that many of them make a strange touch in the middle of the field when they should make a simple pass – that is not the players I know.
“They let me think they came here completely off. But that can happen. The fact that it happened not to one or two players but seven or eight means that probably the day off helped them to relax and switch off completely.
“The next time they are going to find commitment, especially because we have 14 days to go.
“If we put in the same performance in a few days we do not go 10 steps back, we go 20 and that’s not the way to approach the start of the season.”