FanZoner Christopher Panks reflects on yet another derby game where Swindon failed to come out on top.
Robins struggling for consistency
Swindon served up another Jekyll and Hyde performance as they were held 0-0 by West Country rivals Bristol Rovers.
Robins manager Paolo Di Canio described the first half performance his side's best of the season and while Swindon dominated the first half, for the second time in a week, they faded badly after the break. Though they managed not to concede this time around, plenty of parallels can be drawn to Sunday's defeat to Chesterfield at Wembley, as painful as it is to remember.
Like most local derbies, the atmosphere was excellent - verbal couplets were exchanged well before kick off, the fast paced play by both sides added to the tension, tackles flew in. Coming into the tie, Rovers had enjoyed a resurgence of form following Mark McGee's succession of former Swindon managerial candidate Paul Buckle.
Swindon attacked well and after recovering from a crunching late tackle by left back James Paterson, receiving a yellow card when it might have been red, Matt Ritchie looked most dangerous after a quiet game in London. Neat exchanges with Simon Ferry, who also impressed, and direct running led to many good chances and no less than seven corners awarded in the first 45 alone.
As had happened six days ago, the best chance fell to top scorer Alan Connell unmarked inside the penalty area, again he appeared to rush his shot and found only the crossbar when the net seemed an easier proposition - the ball bounced kindly and, crucially, the right side of the line for Rovers keeper Scott Bevan to take control.
In frustratingly similar fashion to Swindon's 2-0 Wembley defeat, the pressure did not edge them ahead and the sides in the second half differed most strikingly in the basics. As the pirates, while ordinary, got them right, Swindon's aptitude faltered. Misplaced passes, miscommunication and other elementary mistakes broke down the majority of Swindon attacking ventures at the key moments, giving Bristol Rovers the opportunity to break with pace.
In the end the game ended 0-0 but the matching adventurous mentality of the two sides, one with a title to win, the other with nothing to lose, made for a hugely entertaining derby day affair. Though both the final pass and the finishing failed to match the general quality of the build up play, the end to end nature would have entertained the neutral; for those with a stake, it was excruciating.
As the second half wore on, the sense of dÃ©jÃ vu intensified as time after time, balls were thrown into the box and easily dealt with by the bruising centre halves Cian Bolger and Tom Parkes, no match for the lightweight striking duo of Conor Murray and Connell. When Paul Benson, who didn't start because of a knock, replaced Connell it seemed possible that, though the tactics wouldn't
change, the taller, stronger Benson may cause more trouble.
Unfortunately, even after Luke Rooney replaced Ritchie, the deliveries did not improve and Rovers stood their ground, inviting pressure onto them to increase space to exploit when the move broke down. Murray was eventually replaced by Raffaele De Vita, who has spent most of his pitch time on the left wing this season, to offer something different but, for all his chasing, failed to really affect the match. As at Wembley, persistence with an ineffectual plan A turned out to be plan B.
The final whistle ended the season's supply of local derbies, the last chance to amend the record which represents a small blight on an otherwise fantastic season - another disappointment particularly at home and against that opposition. The importance attached to derbies by boss Di Canio is well documented and nobody will be more upset at a tally of one win in six clashes against local opposition - against Cheltenham, the least ferocious rivalry of the three, at home.
Following second placed Torquay United's narrow victory over Barnet, Swindon's lead is now just two points, with two games in hand, though I'd feel more comfortable with those points on the board already. Fittingly, the first of those games, sees Swindon travel to the Bees who missed out on a point after leading scorer Izale McLeod missed a spot kick which would have equalised.
Last time Swindon travelled to Underhill, in the first leg of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy South area final, a gritty 1-1 stalemate was played out and from the reports, the same scoreline would have been a fairer conclusion to the Gulls' visit. The Town players will know, from experience in January, that it will be a difficult place to go.
Aside from Benson's injury imposed withdrawal from the starting 11, one other change from Wembley was imposed as Aden Flint, not worthy of a spot on the bench in the capital, started alongside stand in captain Alan McCormack at the back. Flint's return from injury has not impressed Di Canio and bore the brunt of much of the Italian's criticism in the aftermath of the 2-0 defeat at Crewe, however, Oliver Risser playing out of position, had a poor game against Chesterfield, compounded by opening the scoring past his own keeper Wes Foderingham.
There had been concern that Flint had not properly recovered from a strain that was set to cause his absence for the remainder of the season, on Saturday he was deserved man of the match. A dominant aerial performance and a greater degree of intuition with McCormack meant that even when possession was wastefully relinquished in dangerous areas of the pitch, the clean sheet remained intact.
Without Flint, Swindon's lack of height, regardless of the proficiency of Foderingham, had left them vulnerable from set pieces and had conceded the majority of their goals from dead ball situations this year; of course Flint can't be everywhere but his presence is a welcome asset at the back.
Flint's timely re-introduction, hopefully shortly joined by Paul Caddis, should ensure that clean sheets continue and, should that be the case, winning games will only require a goal. The strikers need to re-discover their firepower.