Swindon 1 Plymouth 0: Town’s win, Alan’s joy and Paolo’s loss

In the week leading up to visit of Plymouth Argyle, Paolo Di Canio – the inspirational Swindon Town Manager, had urged the people in and around Swindon to fill the County Ground in support of the team as they edged ever closer to promotion to League One. As the game kicked off, little did they know of Paolo’s personal tragedy that had occurred less than 24 hours prior, writes STFC007.  

Swindon could’ve got promoted Saturday, assuming they picked up the 3 points and other results went their way. Gaining promotion in front of the home crowd is always special, but having to be dependent on other results is normally associated with relegation, not with promotion. Certainly, I wanted the Town to win but get promoted on our own terms. Also, I wanted to be in a position to applaud our players, thank them for their efforts this season, watch the jubilation and not for this to be spoilt by the possibility of a pitch invasion as had happened earlier in the season after the win against Barnet in the JPT.

Just before kick-off, Alan McCormack got the call that his wife was about to give birth – he is now the proud father of a baby girl –  so a fully fit Caddis replaced him, with Joe Devera joining up with Flint in the centre of defence.

The game itself wasn’t great, partly as a result of a very defensive Argyle team that Swindon struggled to unravel. What Plymouth were missing in technical ability, pace and skill, they made up for with effort, determination and time-wasting.

Swindon could have scored early on as as Devita headed the ball against the bar and they enjoyed most of the possession with Plymouth trying to press high up the pitch trying to prevent the supply to the Swindon wingers.

This was going to be a tough afternoon for the Burnley loanee striker MacDonald – or Big Mac as someone in the stands called him, seemingly as he appeared to carry a few extra pounds. But credit to him, he never gave up and chased every ball that was directed towards him. Swindon continued to dictate most of the game and with Caddis back in the team, the overlapping forward runs created several opportunities from the right side.

There were many chances but it was either the quality of the final ball that was lacking or a lack of self-belief when being in a great shooting position. Flint, Benson and Devita all had good chances but they were unable to convert them. As the teams made their way to the dressing room for half time, the referee Mr S Mathieson received some stick for some peculiar and inconsistent decisions, not helped by his assistants not paying attention at crucial moments.

The second half was more of the same, Swindon enjoying most of the possession and most of Plymouth’s limited chances coming from set pieces, all either shot high over and well wide. They operated as a tough defensive unit with limited skills further up the field. It was surprising they finished the game with 11 men as Purse, Feeney and Walton were lucky to escape with a yellow or with nothing at all on several ocassions.

Connell came on for Murray and DeVita made way for Rooney about 15 minutes into the second half and battle hardened Smith replaced Risser with 15 minutes to go to apply even more pressure to force a goal.

The Argyle supporters had been singing “Top of the League, you’re having a laugh” throughout the game, and indeed, 7 minutes from time the Swindon support did. Rooney kept chasing a seemingly lost ball, which ended up with Connell with his back to the goal. He turned the defender and a well placed shot found its way towards the far post and into the goal. Every Town player ran towards the bench to celebrate the deserved goal with the entire coaching team. Plymouth tried to apply some late pressure and brought some fresh but old legs on, all to no avail.

When the final whistle came, most people were staying behind to applaud the players and to find out if we had been promoted. They were all chanting Paolo’s name, waiting for him to come back onto the pitch and for him to wave his Swindon Town scarf above his head as we have become accustomed to. After several minutes it was clear that results hadn’t gone our way and people started making their way to the exit, when it was announced that Paolo had left immediately after the game to make his way back to Italy after his mother had passed away the previous evening.

Thoughts of promotion turned to sadness and disbelief. A man who had lost his father just before the away fixture against Plymouth now had lost his mother just before the return fixture.

A man dedicated to the club, insisting on leading his team out under extremely difficult circumstances in both occasions, triggering messages of condolence, love and support on the radio and various social media.

How harsh reality may be, Swindon play again on Tuesday away to Aldershot where a draw will see us get promoted. I would understand if Paolo isn’t there and instead remains with his family, but we all know that there is a big chance he’ll be there on Tuesday evening leading his team out again.

There have been suggestions for all Swindon Town supporters to wear black armbands on Tuesday evening, a gesture of support and love for a man, who has given us so much and lost himself so much, in such a little time.

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