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Meldrum's Verdict: No blame on James... It was risk and reward
PAOLO Di Canio will need another of those famed green jackets such was the scale of rainfall at Dean Court. Maybe some new shoes, too.
It’s never boring when di Canio is around and those with a clear view of his ranting, waving and gesticulating would have been royally entertained, although the sideshow is often more absorbing than the main event when it comes to the fiery Italian.
Not so here.
Both sides made a mockery of the conditions during an intriguing and stirring final 20 minutes that saw Swindon snatch a point from the jaws of defeat.
Di Canio celebrated like he had won the World Cup, leaping up and down in the flooded technical area after Andy Williams had found the net in the 85th minute. That is his way.
But the Italian knew this was a point gained. Eddie Howe’s face told a wholly different story.
Howe is aware his team can ill-afford many more draws, with this their fourth since he returned to Dean Court in October.
For every point dropped, the upper reaches of League One appear further away. Howe alluded to as much in his post-match thoughts and Cherries are now 10 points adrift of the automatic promotion places.
This result did extend Cherries’ unbeaten run to 18 matches – equalling the benchmark set by the likes of Tommy Heffernan and Tony Funnell in 1982.
It is a magnificent achievement, albeit one Howe found it hard to be enthused about. His weekend was ruined when Williams scored the equaliser.
The Cherries manager rightly refused to point the finger of blame for the goal at goalkeeper David James.
The 42-year-old charged from his penalty area to save at the feet of Chris Martin after he had miscued a free kick deep inside the Cherries half.
The ball spilled into the path of Wes Fogden and Eunan O’Kane, who both had good opportunities to clear, but Fogden gifted the ball to Williams.
Despite Steve Cook’s attempts to recover the situation on the line, Williams held his nerve and sidefooted the ball home as James dived in vain to his right. The visiting fans expressed their glee with chants of ‘One David James’.
After the game had been left in doubt at half-time due to the relentless rain, the result was always likely to be influenced by an individual mistake, or, in James’s case, a risk that failed to pay off.
But Howe was right not to single out James. Prior to the goal, he had been outstanding.
He did well to push Tommy Miller’s drive over the crossbar after just three minutes as the heavens opened.
He then smothered Martin’s effort early in the second half, before sticking out a leg late on to deny Matt Ritchie.
His opposite number, Wes Foderingham, also stood up well in the deluge.
Foderingham dived at full stretch to push Brett Pitman’s second-half strike around the post and also brilliantly kept out Lewis Grabban’s point-blank header. Both goalkeepers also came away with credit for the way they dealt with constant back passes from their defenders.
There was little Foderingham could have done about Cherries’ opener in the first half.
Having dominated early on, Howe’s men took a deserved lead thanks to a wonderful strike from Harry Arter.
The Swindon defence failed to clear the danger in the 26th minute and the ball spilled to Arter on the edge of the penalty area. He took a touch, shimmied to his left and fired |past Foderingham into the far corner.
It was the first goal conceded by Swindon for four games.
Ten minutes later, it should have been 1-1. James Collins took advantage of an error from Cook and took aim with James stranded and the goal gaping.
Somehow, though, he managed to blaze wide. Di Canio was even more incandescent than normal. The home fans took their chance to goad the Italian.
With the playing surface graduating from slick to sticky, referee Phil Gibbs extended the interval by five minutes to allow the Dean Court ground-staff to work on a worrying patch of standing water around the halfway line.
The spiking and rolling did just enough to satisfy Gibbs and it was game on.
The longer the second half wore on, the more Di Canio raged. At one stage, the Italian was square in the face of fourth official John O’Brien after a dubious corner decision from Gibbs. Cue more laughter from the Main Stand.
Howe countered his rival with gentle encouragement directed at his players who, with the clock ticking past 66 minutes, had rarely looked in any kind of danger and were creating chances.
The status quo changed, however, when James was forced to make that key reaction save from Ritchie.
And although Foderingham at the other end denied Pitman, ultimately Swindon will feel Williams’s goal five minutes from time and a point was a fair representation of their efforts.
Match facts and Echo merit marks
Cherries: James 7.5, Francis 7, Cook 7.5, Elphick 8, Daniels 7.5, McQuoid 7 (Fogden, 73), Arter 8 (Hughes, 84), O’Kane 8*, Pugh 7.5, Pitman 7 (Thomas, 74), Grabban 7.5.
Unused subs: Tubbs, McDermott, Partington, Jalal (g/k).
Robins: Foderingham, N Thompson, Devera, Ward, McCormack, Ritchie, Miller (Ferry, 75), Hollands, Roberts (De Vita, 65), Collins (Martin, 55), Williams.
Unused subs: Flint, Navarro, A Rooney, Bedwell (g/k).
Booked: Williams, Ward.
Attendance: 8,777 (including 1,374 |visiting supporters).
Referee: Phil Gibbs (West Midlands).
Star man - Eunan O'Kane
It would be easy simply to hand this award to Harry Arter after his wonderful first-half goal and creative impetus throughout.
But this performance proved beyond all doubt that O’Kane can do the dirty work as well as the pretty stuff.
Playing in a deeper role, O’Kane was on hand to clear the danger on several occasions as well as being the catalyst, often playing through Arter, for many of Cherries’ best attacking moves.
O’Kane has become a massive player for Eddie Howe in the past few weeks.