PERHAPS IT was the loss of an early goal but Sunderland spent almost an hour wilting in the Wiltshire sunshine before they displayed anything like the resources that make them many people's promotion favourites.
A spirited start saw Swindon ahead after only five minutes when Darren Bullock punished the visitors' lethargy in clearing their lines by barging his way to the byline to get in a cross that Iffy Onuora headed into Thomas Sorenson's net. Five minutes later Onuora should have made it 2-0 when Mark Walters' accurate free-kick left him with only the keeper to beat but his header scraped the wrong side of the post.
The Niall Quinn-Kevin Phillips spearhead, so deadly last season, was out of sorts even though the big Irishman did find the net with a first- half header which was ruled offside. When the injured Quinn was replaced by the more combative Daniel Dichio in the 52nd minute, the home defence began to develop cracks. Dichio was booked within 18 minutes of coming on but his presence caused the alarm and confusion which Phillips exploited in the 60th minute when he slid round two tackles to beat Frank Talia with a sweetly-placed equaliser.
Suddenly, Sunderland were on a different plane due to Allan Johnston's perceptive crossing, Michael Gray's eager participation in attack and Darren Williams' manoeuvring for further openings. Dichio nodded astutely to Phillips but the man who had the gall to break Brian Clough's scoring record for the club was inches out.
Swindon struggled for most of the second half and can thank Talia for saving them a point. Ten minutes from time, Kevin Ball's well-struck volley took a wicked deflection. The keeper, by now on the ground, somehow flailed a leg at the ball and diverted it over his crossbar.
Sunderland's transformation should have led to a comfortable win and, who knows, they may regret this result by the end of the season. But no one could begrudge Swindon a point if only for their dogged resistance over the last half-hour.Reuse content