After controlling the game for at least seventy minutes of the ninety, Swindon almost contrived to throw away all three points at Fratton Park Tuesday evening – a crazy last ten minutes almost costing the Town dear, despite a comfortable-looking two goal lead. Writes Richard Banyard of swindon-town-fc.co.uk
The first half hour was overwhelmingly Swindon’s – early on, it just seemed like a matter of time before we would take the lead, as shots rained down on the Pompey goal. A Matt Ritchie shot was turned away for a corner, which after being cleared, fell to Jay McEveley who hit a thunderous shot, which was superbly turned away by the keeper.
On six minutes, a great ball from Roberts was met by Andy Williams, who thought he had finally opened his Town goalscoring account, only to be denied by an offside flag – and though he wouldn’t have to wait much longer to break his duck, he did have to suffer another couple of chances going astray before he did so.
On 12 minutes, another decent Town move found James Collins in acres of space in a central position – he really should have scored, but the keeper got down to block his attempt – soon after, a cross to the back post looked as though it would be tapped in by Williams, but a Pompey defender seemed to do well to block – it was difficult to see exactly what had happened from our position at the other end of the ground – but it was clear that we were dominating proceedings.
Pompey did eventually break out of their half midway through the first period – a woeful effort from McLeod was well off target, there was one moment of panic when Jay McEveley threw himself in to superbly block a shot from a dangerous looking position, after Foderingham had been forced into parrying another McLeod shot away.
Soon, normal service was resumed though – and on the half-hour, we had three great opportunities – Williams brilliantly turning his marker only to be denied by an equally good save – and from the sequence of corners that followed, Collins was denied by another superb stop, and another effort from Roberts was cleared off the line – it was absolute pandemonium in the penalty area at the Fratton Park end.
Portsmouth did break away, and had their best effort of the half – Foderingham getting down low to divert a shot from Obita into the side netting. With all of the chances we had wasted, we were beginning to wonder if it was going to be one of those nights – obviously not happy with the missed opportunities, Di Canio made another first half change, replacing James Collins with Adam Rooney, which I thought was harsh to say the least, assuming Collins wasn’t injured.
Finally though, on the stroke of half time, we broke the deadlock – and almost inevitably, it was Matt Ritchie who got the goal – thumping a low drive past Mikkel Andersen on his near post – it took a little while for the Town fans (well, me at least) at the other end of the pitch to realise it had gone in – it really was no more than we had deserved up to this point. A few Pompey fans had asked us about Ritchie before the game… some had said they had backed him as first goalscorer – when another old guy asked me how he was doing at Swindon, I told him that I hoped he’d see tonight. He did!
Had we have scored the goal earlier on, I honestly think it could have been an absolute cricket score – time and again we had carved open the Pompey defence with relative ease.
We didn’t hit the heights of that first half in the opening part of the second – but ten minutes in, Andy Williams finally got his goal with a superbly taken solo effort. After being slipped in down the left side, Williams seemingly had few options ahead of him – getting to the bye line though, he neatly flicked the ball back out to create an angle for himself to curl the ball into the net, well out of the reach of Andersen – it was a great way to open his account, and the relief on his face seemed evident – a very well taken finish indeed.
For the next twenty-five minutes, it seemed that we hardly had to break sweat. We pinged the ball around a bit without really creating any openings, other than a couple of dangerous crosses into the area from either flank that could have been nicked in ahead of the keeper, and one particularly slick move saw Williams, Roberts and Ritchie combining, only for the former Pompey man to fire over. With what I expected to be our superior fitness levels, I thought we were probably good for another goal or two before the game was out…. there was absolutely no danger at all that the home side would get back into this… was there?
How wrong I was. After former Town man Brian Howard was denied by a great save from Foderingham, the resulting corner was headed against the bar – and all of a sudden, Swindon were completely under the cosh…. much like the period of Town pressure in the first half had been.
Under pressure, we were guilty of some mad defending – after sub Giles Coke picked the ball up in his own area, he slid the ball out to McEveley… christ knows why one of them didn’t just get it out of our area – instead the full back put Foderingham in trouble, and the Town keeper’s clearance was blocked by a Pompey forward, only for the keeper to redeem them all with another great stop. Di Canio was doing his nut on the touchline, and McEveley was soon substituted, after what I presume was Paolo’s dislike for his defending.
Portsmouth hit the post again, Foderingham made another flying save to tip a free-kick over the bar – it was complete and utter madness. As the game entered injury time, Pompey grabbed a goal – a ball into the box headed home by Lubomir Michalik – and having been cruising just ten minutes previously, suddenly we were clinging on for our lives – the goalkeeper was being sent up for corners… the works.
Fortunately, though we seemed to get our heads together after conceding, and there were no more scares before the ref blew his whistle for the final time – and the end of the game was greeted with relief rather than anything else – Paolo obviously wasn’t happy, not sure what he was getting at with his actions, but the body language said it all.