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SWINDON TOWN: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
IT WASN’T pretty, in fact it was pretty ugly, but Swindon Town ground out one of their most impressive and important three-point hauls of the season at Shrewsbury.
The Robins had not paired the luxury of a clean sheet with the satisfaction of all three points on their travels for almost six months – since the 1-0 win at Morecambe on April 6.
It seemed the one character trait missing from such a talented squad’s armoury was persistence away from home, forcing a result when everything seemed to be going against them.
However, on Saturday Paolo Di Canio’s men reminded us all that they do not have to play perfect football to pick up a victory on the road – and what a joy it was to see a Swindon team dig and battle and harry and grind their way to a crucial win.
This was scrappy and unattractive, as Shrewsbury tried and almost succeeded in bullying themselves a point at the New Meadow.
But Swindon stood strong, remained resolute and, with time running out and a stalemate becoming more and more inevitable, Town found a way through their hosts’ rearguard.
It came from an unlikely source, Simon Ferry netting for the first time in more than 10 months to silence the Shropshire crowd with 12 minutes left.
Overall it was probably a fair reflection.
Swindon struggled to get into the game in the first period, though both Andy Williams and James Collins wasted glorious chances, but rose into the ascendancy in the second and, thanks to Ferry, fourth place in the League One table.
Swindon were treated to a physical confrontation in the early exchanges, as Ferry and Giles Coke struggled to match muscle with muscle in midfield.
The first real chance of a fairly scrappy opening 15 minutes came from a set piece. Matt Richards’ corner from the right drifted to the back post, where Jermaine Grandison had time to control the ball but could only lash his volley high and wide of Wes Foderingham’s goal.
Sam Winnell stung Foderingham’s hands for the first time in the 18th minute, but the forward’s drive from range was never likely to find the back of the net.
Winnell was guilty of missing perhaps the Shrews’ best chance of the opening quarter of the game, heading over unmarked from Aaron Wildig’s free-kick, while Foderingham was almost left red-faced when Paul Parry’s cross from the right appeared to be drifting over his head and into the top corner.
However, the Swindon stopper was able to back-pedal and tip the ball over the crossbar.
Having engineered little in the final third, Town should have taken the lead in the 24th minute against the run of play.
Williams benefited from two fortunate ricochets as he galloped into the Shrewsbury penalty area and, with time to spare, side-footed wide of Chris Weale’s right-hand post from not much more than eight yards.
It was a chance you expected Williams, in the middle of a rich vein of form, to take.
Slowly Town began to weigh anchor, fighting blustery conditions and a pitch far from conducive to their preferred style of quick, smooth passing through midfield.
Compensating for the conditions, the visitors were happy to launch balls into the channels for Matt Ritchie, James Collins and Williams to chase and, while the trio were more than willing runners, the tactic was easily stifled by Shrewsbury’s strong-arm defensive tactics.
Jay McEveley had Weale scrambling across his goal to push his free-kick wide just after the half-hour before Collins had his fairytale storyline served up on a plate in the final minute of the period.
Williams latched onto a mistake by Darren Jones to sprint into the area and around Weale, only to see his goalbound area cleared off the line by a backtracking Shrews defender.
When the rebound fell to Collins three yards out, however, it seemed inevitable that the former Shrewsbury striker would fire his new team in front.
But from point-blank range, under pressure from the Shrews defence, he contrived to blaze high over the crossbar.
Unhappy with what he had seen from his midfield in the first half, Paolo Di Canio made a double substitution at the break, withdrawing the relative inexperience of Coke and Raffa De Vita and replacing them with Tommy Miller and Gary Roberts.
The changes appeared to galvanise Town. In the 53rd minute only a brilliant save from Weale, making himself big in front of Collins, prevented the Swindon frontman from clipping Williams’ knockdown into the back of the net.
Two minutes later Collins opened up the space for a shot at goal once again but, after firing well wide, Di Canio had seen enough and replaced the striker with Adam Rooney.
Rooney headed Ritchie’s cross wide 10 minutes later as Swindon steadily forced the hosts onto the back foot but, with the Robins seemingly prone to regular lapses of concentration, Shrewsbury still held a potent threat on the break.
As the game entered its final 20 minutes, so it became ever more stretched.
While Town couldn’t find the killer pass to set up that golden chance in front of goal at one end, Shrewsbury were busy doing the same at the other.
Both teams looked leggy in midfield and when chances did eventually arrive they soon went begging, exemplified by Marvin Morgan’s horrible hoik over the crossbar from the edge of the box with 15 minutes remaining.
Either a major blunder or a moment of class was going to settle the contest and in the end it was the latter.
It took 78 minutes for Swindon to conjure up a move of any real quality but when it came it was decisive.
Ritchie set Rooney free down the right, the forward chipped to the back post where Williams rose above Jones to nod into the path of Ferry.
If you were going to use one word to describe the Scot prolific would not be it, but Ferry showed all the composure of a veteran goalscorer to get his body over the bouncing ball and volley into the bottom right-hand corner of Weale’s goal.
And the Robins hung on through a desperate final 10 minutes to secure all three points.
“It would have been a shame if we had gone away without three points,” said Di Canio afterwards.
“Apart from the first 15 minutes, during which I was very angry and I didn’t enjoy because they had an occasion to prove their desire and I didn’t see the fire from some players.
“In terms of the game and the quality in general, for 70 minutes we dominated the game and we should have scored more goals.
“I’m very happy because in the past we used to not draw but lose these games, so it means the quality is the quality, the knowledge is the knowledge and at the end we came out with three points fully deserved.
“I’m very happy even if I’m very tired.”