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SWINDON TOWN 3 CRAWLEY TOWN 0: These things come in threes...
IT’S becoming a very happy habit. For the third time in less than a year Swindon Town lined up against Crawley Town and for the third successive match the men from Wiltshire romped home 3-0 winners.
You can call it third time lucky if you really want, but in reality Swindon were utterly dominant.
Mixing the now traditional tight home defence with an attacking unit that was bursting at the seams with movement and trickery, the hosts quickly restored normal order after the somewhat stagnant performance at Hartlepool last weekend.
Matt Ritchie, sensational throughout, opened the scoring when his cross-cum-shot looped over Paul Jones midway through the first half before Tommy Miller made up for his penalty miss at Victoria Park on Saturday with a second a minute before the break.
After half-time Town grabbed Crawley by the scruff of the neck once again, with Raffa De Vita smashing past Jones after 63 minutes, while Aden Flint saw his headed effort disallowed for offside late on.
Unbeaten at home in the league for more than a year, Swindon showed why teams coming to fortress County Ground are right to feel intimidated.
It was a display oozing class, quality, commitment and desire that surely must have had manager Paolo Di Canio, who had berated his players after the stalemate in the north east, leaving the stadium a very happy man.
Town started brightly, and Miller had the first pop at goal in the second minute although his effort on the volley from the edge of the area was easily saved by Jones in the Crawley goal.
Moments later, Claude Davis almost diverted De Vita’s cross from the left past his own goalkeeper but, luckily for the visiting defender, the ball spun out for a corner.
The Robins were given the Di Canio version of the hairdryer treatment following their goalless draw at Hartlepool on Saturday and they shot out of the blocks keen to make instant amends.
Joe Devera should have nodded the hosts in front after 11 minutes when he found himself unmarked at the back post from De Vita’s left-wing corner, but the right-back contrived to head the ball into the ground and over the top of the Red Devils’ crossbar.
Crawley struggled to get a stranglehold on proceedings early on, with Simon Ferry and Miller nipping many of their growing passages of play in the bud.
Hope Akpan curled over from 15 yards after 19 minutes but the visitors could muster little in the final third and they fell behind with just over a quarter of the game gone.
While Swindon deserved to nudge ahead, they did so in the most fortunate of circumstances.
Ritchie, running Mat Saddler ragged down the right, swung in a cross which drifted beyond Jones and nestled neatly in the bottom corner.
Stung, Crawley finally found their feet and a sustained spell of pressure ended with Kyle McFadzean nodding Mark Connolly’s teasing left-wing cross narrowly over from close range.
But Swindon always looked dangerous going forwards, particularly down the right, where Ritchie fed Williams who somehow turned his marker inside the box before firing into the side-netting.
The visiting Red Devils attempted a mini comeback towards the end of the half, but Wes Foderingham was equal to Billy Clarke’s drive from 15 yards and the away side’s delivery from either flank was lacking the kind of quality necessary to cause Town problems as Alan McCormack and Flint stood resolute at the heart of defence.
And moments before half-time Swindon gave themselves a welcome cushion on which to sit at the break, as Miller fired them further in front.
Ritchie was again intricately involved in the move, chipping to the back post where De Vita nodded goalwards.
The ball was stabbed half-clear by the Crawley defence but Miller was quickest to react and planted the ball confidently past Jones.
Saturday’s penalty woes were instantly forgotten.
After the interval, Town quickly found themselves in Crawley territory once more, with James Collins teeing up Ritchie who fired straight at Jones.
With the hosts utterly dominant it seemed only a matter of time before they struck again. And the third Swindon goal came eight minutes into the second period.
Ritchie, elusive and combative in equal measure, dinked the ball across from the right. De Vita was unmarked at the back post, and the wide man controlled well with his first touch before crashing home his second.
It seemed as though the Robins were able to open up their opponents at will, and only a fingertip save by Jones prevented Williams from finding the top corner after he galloped clear of the Crawley rearguard, sprinting from the halfway line before unleashing a rocket of a shot at the traveling keeper.
Though shots at goal became scarce as the half wore on, Town monopolised territory and possession to the extent where Foderingham had only to deal with shots from range or high balls into the box.
He looked as composed as ever under each, saving comfortably from Adams and dealing with anything and everything Crawley lobbed into his penalty area.
At the other end, Town thought they had netted for a fourth time when Flint nodded beyond Jones at the back post from Ritchie’s free-kick – but the County Ground’s celebrations were cut short by the linesman’s flag.
Collins then saw his fierce drive beaten away by Jones after the striker used a mixture of brute force and dainty footwork to dance around the Crawley back four as Town eased to victory.