| Swindon eventually recorded a well deserved 3-2 win over top-of-the-table Rotherham this afternoon - despite dominating for long periods though, the combination of The Curse of Alex Revell and the Town's Achilles' heel of conceding goals from set pieces almost contrived to deny them maximum points.
Following Leon Clarke's midweek self-implosion, di Canio replaced him up front with Lukas Magera for the Czech's first start - pairing him with Mehdi Kerrouche in attack. There were three other changes - Mattia Lanzano coming in for his debut at the expense of Phil Smith in goal, Alan McCormack replaced Jonathan Smith in midfield, and perhaps most surprisingly, Raffaele de Vita was chosen on the left wing, instead of Lander Gabilondo.
Within the first minute, Kerrouche was causing problems in the Rotherham defence - challenging for a ball in the area that a defender had allowed to bounce, Millers' keeper Conrad Logan collided with the defender, seemingly breaking his nose in the process. For a long period, it looked as though Logan would have to leave the pitch, but he was able to continue. Kerrouche got the first effort on target ten minutes later- after taking it around two defenders, he cut inside from the left flank and fired a shot across goal - Logan got across well to save - there were no Town players following in to apply a finishing touch.
Ten minutes later though, despite the away side having not threatened at all, they took the lead. A free-kick into the box was headed away by Magera, but only as far as the edge of the area, where firstly there was no challenge to prevent a Rotherham header back into the danger zone, then - even worse - there was no-one in the vicinity of that man Alex Revell, who gleefully headed it into the back of the net, giving Lanzano no chance at all.
Magera should have equalised a few minutes later, when a cross from the right found him in a central position, but he could only direct his header straight at Logan. Ritchie had a shot from distance that also forced a save from the Millers' keeper. By this point, Swindon were almost totally in the ascendancy, and very unlucky to be down - but with five minutes left in the half, they got themselves back on level terms. Kerrouche was the provider - swinging in a corner from the left flank (the first of many well-delivered balls from the Algerian), Ritchie met it on the volley on the back post - it was going well wide, until Rotherham defender Tom Newey stuck out a leg and diverted it in via his knee. It was fortunate, but no more than the Town deserved.
Swindon started the second half as they ended the first - looking far more likely to break the deadlock - and twice they came oh-so-close to taking the lead. The first was created by de Vita, who had been largely anonymous on the left flank in the first half - but this time he did well to get the better of a defender on the touchline, before taking the ball into the area, and almost to the bye line. There, rather than place it back to Kerrouche, he squared it across the face of the goal - where Ritchie stood unmarked on the back post... unfortunately, it was one for the bloopers videos - Ritchie allowing the ball to squirm under his foot with the goal at his mercy.
Magera was much more unlucky on the hour - swivelling on a ball thrown in to him on the edge of the area, he struck a beauty of a shot low - the keeper may have got a slight touch on it, and the ball cannoned back off the foot of the post.
Five minutes later, the curse struck again.... and again it was shocking defending from the Town. A free-kick was played into the area, and again we weren't goal side - Aden Flint tried in vain to get his head on the ball, jumping back, but Revell was there to plant another header past Lanzano. The former Town loanee now has seven goals in his last seven games against Swindon - six of those goals coming in the five games since his loan spell... and he hasn't failed to score in any of them. Contrast that with his time at Swindon, when he scored just twice in twelve games!!
Swindon again only had themselves to blame for being in this situation - up to now, they'd made the visitors look pretty ordinary - they'd had two attempts on target and netted them both. We have got to get better at defending dead balls. Shortly after, it could have even got worse, when Lewis Grabban got to the bye line for the visitors, and just when he was shaping to square the ball across goal, Alberto Comazzi brought him down with a sliding challenge - it was a certain penalty, bizarrely there didn't seem to be much of a protest from anyone around.... Comazzi was lucky that firstly his poor defending hadn't been punished, and secondly that his challenge hadn't resulted in the penalty it warranted.
Three minutes later though, the away side started their own self-destructing act. Kerrouche picked up on a through-ball, but after playing the ball in to Ritchie, he was scythed down by a challenge from Danny Schofield - Ritchie went on to fire a shot at goal that was deflected away for a corner. The referee went back to Schofield to show him a second yellow card - quite honestly, it could have been a straight red. Before the corner, di Canio brought on Alan Connell for the tiring Magera - and it proved a masterstroke - the striker getting on the end of Kerrouche's superb corner, heading the ball into the net off the post.
With Swindon on top, and the visitors down to ten men, you could hear that the natives could sense victory - moments later, another good corner from Kerrouche was headed unluckily wide by Comazzi. At the other end, Rotherham substitute Brett Williams could perhaps have done better when he headed straight at Lanzano, but with ten minutes left on the clock, Swindon struck again to take their deserved lead. From the Town's right side, Ritchie swung in a beautiful left-footed cross, right into the danger zone - and it was Alan Connell who again got to it, finding the space between two defenders to head low into the net.
Still the action wasn't over though. Rotherham came very close to equalising, when a long-range low drive from sub Jason Taylor beat Lanzano, only to miss the post by inches. A minute later, Swindon were reduced to ten as well in bizarre fashion - Comazzi went across to cover as a Rotherham forward attemped to get in behind him - the forward player ran into the back of him, and though it looked like their was hardly any contact and completely innoculous, the referee came across to show the Italian his second yellow card of the afternoon, despite the protests from the Town's players. Annoyingly, I don't think you can even appeal against a second yellow card.
The Town saw the game out really well though, for the most part keeping it in Rotherham territory - Kerrouche really should have wrapped it up in injury time, when a woeful clearance from the goalkeeper found him forty yards from goal with an empty net and with plenty of time... inexplicably, he attemped to curve it in with the outside of his right boot, and it ended up about five yards wide of the goal.
So... a good attacking performance, but still I feel plenty of work to do at the back - unsurprisingly, a lower attendance of 6,300 considering the pricing structure and the fact that the game was on TV - thought the away turnout of 216 was pretty impressive considering the distance and circumstances.
Onwards and upwards?