On a ‘pitch’ more suitable for the Calcutta Cup match up the road at Twickenham, how fitting that two penalty conversions should settle this scrappy, horrible footballing encounter in front of the Sky Sports cameras, writes Daniel Hunt.
Something must have been a leveller because Swindon didn’t beat Crawley by the now customary scoreline of 3-0 (all the fun of thrashing Crawley has evaporated now that Steve Evans has gone). Instead, the scoreline mirrored the last time these two sides met on live television back in November 2010. Against a competent side in difficult conditions, this will go down, alongside Orient in midweek, as another hard-earned point in Swindon’s promotion challenge.
It’s a good job there wasn’t a lot of football played because this allowed ex-Blue Peter presenter, Simon Thomas, to follow the Paolo Di Canio soap opera from the gantry. If Thomas had pulled out a few post-match clips that Di Canio had made earlier then he’d have realised that there was nothing special about the eccentric Italian hugging everyone of his players and clapping the 699 fans passionately – a concept obviously alien to Thomas’ partner in the box, former Swindon manager, Danny Wilson.
The starting eleven bore three changes from the Leyton Orient game last Tuesday. In came Jay McEveley (his first start since November 24th), Flint and Roberts and out went Nathan Thompson, Devera and Bournemouth’s Matt Ritchie. Town could only name six substitutes including second year scholar, Aaron Oakley, a sign that the squad is looking thin. Forgotten man, Luke Rooney, seems to have found himself in the same state of limbo which Marlon Pack described this week at Cheltenham.
Swindon started the game very well and could have found themselves in front after only four minutes. A De Vita corner was headed upwards by the dominant Flint and when it dropped, James Collins was agile enough to connect well and get a shot away at goal. Unfortunately, Collins connected too well and the effort went straight at Paul Jones who pulled off a smart save in the Crawley goal. Deputising for the injured Joe Devera, Flint continued his aerial dominance in the 13th minute but his tame effort was easily cleared off the line, this time from a Miller corner.
The game was struggling for flow and the central-midfield pair of Miller and Ferry had to work hard for everything they got. Town’s best chances looked like they were going to come from set-pieces aimed at the back post for either Ward or Flint and this trend continued just before the twenty minute mark. A free-kick from the halfway line found Ward at the back post and his knock-back found the forehead of the onrushing Andy Williams. Despite the good connection, Jones was alert to the danger and saved well. Like Collins before him, Williams almost connected too well, straight at the keeper.
When Billy Clarke struck Crawley into the lead from the penalty spot in the 22nd minute, it was a barely deserved lead that came against the run of play. Nicky Adams was Crawley’s best player on the night and he was felled by the lunging Alan McCormack to win the penalty. Replays showed that Swindon’s captain scarcely made contact with Adams but by going to ground in the box, the former Charlton man made it easy for the referee to give the decision. Worryingly, that is the second time this calendar year that McCormack has dived in and given away a penalty.
The goal turned the match in Crawley’s favour as they sat deep and hit Town on the counter attack. McCormack had a woeful time at right-back against Adams and twice more Crawley sprung attacks down his side of the pitch. On the thirty minute mark, Darren Ward’s saving tackle meant that Josh Simpson’s effort deflected just wide of Foderingham’s goal.
The Red Devils’ best chance of extending their lead came in first half stoppage time through Jamie Proctor. A simple long-ball over the top caught out the Swindon defence but the ungainly Proctor, who hasn’t scored in 22 matches, never looked like scoring as he went one-on-one with Wes Foderingham – a fearsome task. Foderingham saved well with his left hand and the danger passed. The only other Town effort of note in the first half was an ambitious Gary Roberts shot from distance which deflected just over the point of post and bar after 34 minutes.
Half time and a double substitution in the 52nd minute had the desired effect for Di Canio as Swindon came roaring back into the game through an unlikely source – Adam Rooney, the striker whose sideburns almost matched the colour of the Adidas stripes on Town’s away kit! Town had already threatened before that though; Andy Williams having a deflected volley tipped round the post by Jones in the 51st minute.
Although Rooney for Collins was the headline grabbing substitution, the introduction of Nathan Thompson for McEveley, moving McCormack from right to left back in the process, was possibly the most crucial change Swindon made in the game. Thompson almost immediately snuffed out the threat of Adams and McCormack was able to have a much quieter time up against Mike Jones, Crawley’s un-influential right midfielder.
There is no other way to describe the penalty decision on Adam Rooney as soft in the 58th minute. Receiving a long throw in from McCormack, Rooney felt a nudge in his lower back and went down without really appealing for a penalty. It came as shock to most watching in the ground and on TV that it was given but the ginger assassin stepped up confidently to fire home to the keeper’s right for 1-1. Rooney hadn’t made an appearance since the 20th November last year so it felt like a new signing had come off the bench and re-invigorated the match.
Not just content with making and scoring the equaliser, the Irishman went on a one-man crusade to win the game and came close to putting Swindon in the lead twice in three minutes. Firstly after 63 minutes, following his own good work on the right hand side, Rooney got in round the back of the Crawley defence but failed to pick out either Roberts or Williams who were both well placed. Three minutes later, Rooney was this time the recipient of great build up work from De Vita and McCormack on the left hand side. McCormack’s wicked cross was met perfectly by the on loan Birmingham man but Paul Jones pulled off one of the saves of the season in the Crawley goal to keep the scores level.
A significant spell of Swindon pressure seemed to end with fifteen minutes left as Williams could only head wide when well placed from a sumptuous Gary Roberts cross – Williams really should have done better. As the game drew to a close, things got really scrappy and the home side put together a tiny head of steam as the game drifted into stoppage time. Aden Flint was on hand to head away superbly a tricky Dumbuya cross from the right but none of Crawley’s pressure turned into guilt edged chances.
The final moment could have been a glorious one for Thompson but he could only toe-poke at the keeper after weaving his way through the Crawley defence from wide on the right. One of these days, Nathan’s going to score a cracking goal, I can feel it. Great feet and composure for a defender.
Could the post-match interviews shed any more light on who shot Phil Mitchell whether Di Canio was staying? No, is the simple answer, as Paolo stuck strictly to discussing the match at hand and very proud of his virus hit squad he was too. Town supporters will have to suffice with an Eastenders style cliff-hanger ending on Monday morning perhaps? My gut-feeling is that he will stay, just. I think Di Canio is fiercely loyal to the Swindon fans and players and it is this glue, this bond, which will keep him at the County Ground until at least the end of the season.
A lot may depend on Swindon’s fate in the emergency loan market when it re-opens on Thursday. The successful conclusion of deals for the Charlton two of Danny Green and Bradley Wright-Phillips alongside Marlon Pack from Cheltenham may be enough to appease our wonderful manager. Looking at the squad, the signings would definitely be welcome.
Green would add much needed competition to Roberts and De Vita on the wings, now that Ritchie has departed, and Pack would fill the large hole left by the return of Danny Hollands to Charlton through injury. Wright-Phillips would go down as more of a luxury signing but acquiring a natural goal scorer in a promotion run-in should not be scoffed at. With Benson now at Cheltenham and Chris Martin set to return to Norwich when his loan expires next week, another forward would be very handy indeed.
One final thought from me… I had pondered to myself before the match that if Town win, Di Canio will stay, and if Town lose, he will go…. So where the hell does a draw leave us? LIMBO, that’s where.
See you at Colchester, COYR!
Follow Daniel Hunt on Twitter – @dphunt88