TRADITIONALLY, Easter is the celebration of a second coming. For Michael Smith, Good Friday 2014 could be a platform for just that.
Smith, the January acquisition from Charlton Athletic, has struggled to endear himself to Swindon Town fans since his six-figure switch from The Valley, despite netting six times in 16 appearances prior to the trip to Coventry City yesterday.
He had incurred the wrath of his own supporters at the County Ground, mocked and jeered for a series of nervous performances. Perhaps now that might all change.
Smith rose highest in the 93rd minute at Sixfields yesterday to head home Jay McEveley’s cross and secure a dramatic three points for Town. More than 1,000 disciples in the away end went bonkers. Maybe this will keep the critics at bay for now.
Otherwise, the 22-year-old was a useful cog in a Swindon machine that looked well-oiled, well drilled and remarkably fluid. For the first 30 minutes Coventry simply couldn’t get near the visitors and Alex Pritchard’s tidy finish in the eighth minute had given Town a deserved lead.
However, as we’ve learnt from recent developments in the SN1 boardroom, this club doesn’t know how to do things the easy way. Had it not been for Joe Murphy’s terrific shot-stopping powers – the Sky Blues’ keeper kept out Massimo Luongo and Smith with two excellent first-half saves – Coventry would have been dead and buried.
But at Easter, comebacks are king. And John Fleck was the home hero in the immediate moments before half-time, as he found space on the edge of the box to drill home left-footed.
The second half lacked as many clear-cut chances, though Jack Stephens did clear off the line from Nathan Eccleston, and it seemed to be drifting towards a draw only for Smith to float through the air to score the goal that perhaps means the most to him of those he has scored for Swindon.
Resurrection may be an overstatement. It was certainly exhilarating.
Town started brightly and in the second minute worked Murphy in the Coventry goal. Pritchard muscled his way down the left flank and chipped a wicked cross into the back post where Smith rose above his marker to head goalwards. The ball seemed destined for the top corner, only for Murphy to stick out his left hand and paw to safety.
Callum Wilson wasted a good chance for the hosts moments later, ballooning over from 15 yards after being offered acres of space inside the Swindon box, before McEveley dragged horribly wide from range.
It was an entertaining and rambunctious start to proceedings and, within eight minutes, Town had fired themselves in front. Nathan Byrne’s delightful chipped pass into the Coventry area picked out Nathan Thompson and, when the full-back couldn’t keep hold of possession, the loose ball fell to the feet of Pritchard, who lashed confidently beyond Murphy.
With both teams willing to play expansive, high-tempo football, the chances kept coming. In the 18th minute, Wilson hooked Carl Baker’s corner narrowly wide at the near post, while Pritchard perhaps should have found the target at the back post with a header after Murphy had flapped at McEveley’s corner.
With eight minutes left before half-time, Murphy was called into action once again, as Luongo pulled the trigger from 25 yards. The Australian’s shot dipped late and the Sky Blues keeper did well to leap to his left and push the ball out for a corner.
Coventry were largely second best for much of the first half but in the final five minutes of the period they accelerated through the gears and, with their first shot on target of the game, levelled matters in the 43rd minute.
Fleck picked up possession 30 yards from goal and was allowed to drive on to the edge of the area, from where his left-footed effort beat Wes Foderingham to his bottom, left-hand corner.
Swindon needed half-time to regroup and the 15-minute interval appeared to have done them good as they began the second half with renewed composure.
Gladwin dragged a shot wide from 20 yards, Smith’s was blocked, McEveley hacked over and Jack Stephens saw a deflected header fall past the wrong side of the post.
Thompson was next to get in behind the Coventry backline, in the 67th minute, but after collecting Smith’s tidy pass he saw his attempt pushed out for a corner by Murphy.
Pritchard and Smith both wasted further chances for the visitors, while a terrible attempt from Cyrus Christie for the hosts almost ended up back in Coventry itself. Pritchard saw a fizzing effort deflected wide for a corner, from which Murphy made a terrific save to keep out Troy Archibald-Henville at close range when the loose ball fell to the Ton centre-back in the six-yard box.
At the other end, substitute Eccleston hit a wild effort off-target before coming within inches of stealing victory for the hosts with two minutes of the 90 remaining. The striker met a whipped cross from the right and prodded beyond Foderingham, only for the backtracking Stephens to hack the ball clear as it dribbled towards the goalline.
Everything seemed set to be shared but it wasn’t to be. Roared on by a boisterous away support, McEveley seized possession just inside the Coventry half in the final minute of injury time, pushed on and curled a gorgeous cross into the area. Smith’s finish was superb, as were the scenes in amongst the visitors’ fans at the final whistle.
A very happy Easter.