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SWINDON TOWN: A damp squib for Di Canio
IF YOU are an aesthete you’d have been well advised to steer clear of Brisbane Road last night.
On a grotty playing surface, in pouring rain, against a Leyton Orient side who oozed resolve but little creativity, Swindon Town had to put in the hard yards for a share of the spoils.
There was nothing sexy about this performance. It was the runt of the litter in that respect; unkept and dirty and unlikely to charm the neutral.
Chances went begging and passes went astray, and at the end of it all Swindon could look back on 90 minutes of toil and perhaps feel disappointed they did not emerge victors.
Andy Williams hit a post, James Collins missed with a free header and Jamie Jones in the Orient goal pulled off a brilliant stop to deny Alan McCormack as the game ended goalless.
But Town remain unbeaten in more than two months, and that’s not something to be scoffed at, however unattractive one game may have been.
On a pitch that was part grass, part beach, the two teams exchanged sights of goal in the opening moments.
Williams could only scoop Raffa De Vita’s cross from the left over the top of the crossbar from 10 yards out in the second minute, while David Mooney dragged a shot horribly wide 60 seconds later as rain lashed down on an already churned-up surface.
Town started with the intent to play their football in conditions that scarcely suited it. Matt Ritchie leathered a long-range effort into the crowd behind Jamie Jones’ goal in the 10th minute before Joe Devera nodded wide at the back post from a corner, but the visitors’ invention was stifled by the conditions.
When the Robins did manage to beat the elements and get the ball down and play, they seemed capable of scything their opponents in half.
A smooth move down the right, involving Ritchie and Simon Ferry, saw the former tee up the latter to sidefoot at Jones just before the half-hour.
But trying to get into a rhythm of ‘pass and move’ on a pitch whose squelch was audible from 80 feet up in the stands proved to be a fruitless and thankless task.
This wasn’t a first half for the purists.
With four minutes remaining of the opening period Orient came close as Charlie MacDonald thrashed a volley into the side-netting, but the hosts were at best functional and at worst clumsy during the first half.
After the break, Orient managed to find an air of composure and adapted better to the slimy surface, and Martin Rowlands’ long-range free-kick was deflected out for a corner in the 55th minute.
But Swindon were soon back on the offensive.
Ritchie somehow contorted his body in a way which in enabled him to volley left-footed on goal, only for the effort to be blocked by Ben Chorley, while Collins should have done better than nod a free header wide from Ritchie’s free-kick.
Orient were made of sterner stuff in the second half.
Rowlands saw Foderingham out of position in the 65th minute and attempted a long-range volley which flew harmlessly over, while Dean Cox slid the ball wide of the Town keeper’s left-hand post but in between the Robins came within centimetres of nudging in front.
De Vita crossed neatly from the right, Williams sneaked in front of his man and beat Jones with a tidy sidefooted effort, only to see the ball strike the inside of a post, rebound into the middle of the six-yard box and get hacked to safety.
As the game entered its final quarter so both teams opened up. Cox, lively following his introduction, volleyed MacDonald’s knockdown over the crossbard while, at the other end, Chris Martin twice produced sensational low crosses into the area without finding another blue shirt.
Though the match had finally found the spark it needed to lighten the dank gloom in east London, either keeper had yet to make a major contribution. That changed in the 75th minute.
McCormack, as usual unafraid to romp forwards in support of his midfielders, picked up possession 40 yards from goal, took three strides forward and unleashed a rasping drive which had Jones flying to his right to tip the ball out for a corner.
Rowlands, who struggled to find his range all evening, slashed an effort from 20 yards over with 12 minutes remaining while Martin and Ritchie also missed the target from outside the penalty area as the game appeared to be hobbling towards its conclusion.
Ritchie was livid when Williams took McCormack’s cross off his forehead and nodded wide in the 83rd minute, while in a bizarre echo 90 yards down the pitch, it was Mooney’s turn to be enraged when Jimmy Smith prevented him from testing Foderingham.
Neither side showed any sign of letting up as the minutes ticked by. Darren Ward, immense in his defensive role throughout, needed to grow a couple of inches to direct Ritchie’s corner on target while Foderingham produced a quite sensational save low to his right to deny Smith’s drive with a minute left.
How important that stop proved to be.
Ugly or not, it was a hard-earned point.