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SWINDON TOWN: Elusive Collins strike is crucial for Di Canio & Co
SOME say good things come to those who wait, but even the most impatient Swindon Town fan would have been satisfied with the way the Robins started their League One clash at Bury on Saturday.
James Collins scored one of the fastest goals in the club’s history, after just 25 seconds, as the 408 Town fans who had travelled to the north west were brought to their feet within moments of taking their seats at Gigg Lane.
It was Collins’ first league goal for the club in 11 appearances since the Republic of Ireland Under 21 international made the switch from Shrewsbury over the summer, and in the end it was enough to secure a welcome three points on the road after the miserable home defeat to Colchester last Tuesday night.
Swindon should perhaps have gone on to win by more, as Federico Bessone saw his goalbound shot blocked and Adam Rooney spurned two good opportunities in the second period after being introduced as a half-time substitute in place of the injured Andy Williams.
But anything more than a one-goal victory would have been an unfair reflection on the game from a Bury perspective.
The struggling hosts, for whom new manager Kevin Blackwell occupied the dug-out at Gigg Lane for the first time, refused to lie down and die despite being stung so early in the game.
Though they never really tested Wes Foderingham in between the Town sticks in anger the Swindon stopper still had to be strong under a series of set-pieces, while Jay McEveley’s fine block prevented David Healey from levelling in the minutes after Collins’ opener.
Manager Paolo Di Canio stressed after the game that, if the Robins are to maintain their aspirations of promotion this season, he needs the board to act quickly to remove the transfer embargo currently hanging over the club, but he must have been encouraged by a defensive performance that despite the absence of Alan McCormack remained resilient throughout.
Aden Flint and Darren Ward provided an immovable wall at the heart of the back four, while the return of Nathan Thompson at right-back seemed to bring an immediate response out of Matt Ritchie in front of him.
It certainly wasn’t pretty, and Swindon remain worryingly profligate in the final third, but wins are wins and this newly-promoted side currently sit fourth in League One, just three points off an automatic promotion place.
Town flew out of the blocks in style, claiming the lead inside the first 30 seconds.
Ritchie’s pass found Collins on the edge of the box and the frontman tried to find Williams with a deep cross into the area.
Instead of picking out his strike partner, however, Collins’ over-hit centre drifted over Bury keeper Trevor Carson and into the back of the net.
After the desperately disappointing display at the County Ground last week, it was the perfect pick-me-up for the players, management and fans alike.
With such an early goal to settle any lingering nerves or anxieties, you would have thought Swindon would be able to summon up the sort of performance that overwhelmed Crawley, Brighton and Portsmouth in recent weeks.
But instead Town settled into an uncomfortable rhythm of ‘get ball, lose ball’.
Thankfully, on the odd occasion individual errors looked set to land the Robins in trouble either the resilient defensive line or the poor quality of the opposition came to the rescue.
McEveley, the most consistent performer in a red shirt over the course of the past fortnight, tracked back brilliantly to slide in and deny Healy in the 11th minute, while Foderingham twice punched clear from underneath his own crossbar as Bury forced a succession of corners midway through the first half.
Still, there was about as much action as a Woody Allen movie.
Bury’s lack of composure on the ball, coupled with Town’s generosity in handing over possession, created a flux in midfield. A black hole for passing football. Neither side appeared to have the wherewithal to tear their opponents in two and the ball spent more time in the air than a 747 pilot.
When Swindon eventually did find their fluent best, on the half-hour, Bessone saw his strike blocked after he was neatly teed up by Simon Ferry’s fancy flick from Ritchie’s centre.
Meanwhile, at the other end, the best the hosts could manage before half-time was a wild effort from Peter Sweeney, which was still rising as it sailed several metres over Foderingham’s bar.
At the start of the second period it appeared that Town were establishing a foothold on proceedings.
Tommy Miller’s cross picked out Ritchie and the winger’s header narrowly escaped the diving Rooney at the back post. Any touch from the Birmingham loanee and Swindon would have been out of sight.
Collins took the ball down neatly on his chest and fired over three minutes later before Rooney wasted a gilt-edged chance in the 53rd minute.
Ritchie crossed well from the right, his low pass picking out Rooney 12 yards from goal and with time to take a touch and fire beyond Carson.
However, the striker flinched, rushed his shot and ended up kicking air, allowing the Bury the defence to clear.
With 22 minutes remaining Rooney came closest to adding a second.
Ferry’s header fell into his path 15 yards from goal and his crisp volley appeared to have the better of Carson, only for the Shakers stopper to reach down low to his left and make a terrific save.
Having failed to give themselves a buffer with which to see out the final quarter of the game, Swindon were made to sweat for all three points.
Bury enjoyed plenty of possession and the better or the territory, but Flint and Ward stood strong to reduce the home side to a single attempt of any note. And even Lateef Elford-Alliyu’s lob from the edge of the box was not enough to concern Foderingham.
Di Canio was pleased with the victory but far from satiated by his side’s performance.
“Three points is the maximum you can have and you know me, I’m happy for these three points,” he said after the game.
“There’s a situation in the last game, the way we played our last game, and today didn’t change my opinion but it was important to get three points and then we can travel back with a big smile because we got the maximum we could today.
“If you know me you know that I didn’t enjoy watching this game, but I have to be a manager that has to realise we played Tuesday, they didn’t play Tuesday and we have played many games in a row including the cup games which were expensive in terms of energy – mentally and physically.
“Tuesday was a bad defeat, a bad performance and it wasn’t easy coming here against a side that is struggling, have changed their manager and did very well at Stevenage.
“At the end of the day I am happy with the three points but I know how tough it was for my players to play today.”