Football / First Division play-offs: Swindon strike early to reward Hoddle's focus

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The Independent Online
Swindon Town . . . .3

Tranmere Rovers. . .1

SWINDON'S lap of honour at the end was primarily a celebration of a result which makes them favourites for the First Division play-off final and a thank you for the season. The County Ground may also view it as a farewell to Glenn Hoddle, whose abilities as a manager as well as a player were in evidence again.

Hoddle, wanted by Chelsea and Tottenham, had his side so focused on this game despite speculation predicting his departure that they were two goals ahead inside the first three astonishing minutes.

If he is to leave at the end of the knock-out series then at least he can say he has assembled a team capable of joining him in the Premier League. And Wembley would be a fitting platform for his players, whose movement and passing are a purist's delight.

As successfully as Swindon seized hold of this first leg, it must be said that Tranmere defended like novices at the start and only slightly improved afterwards. They went three goals down but spiritedly lifted themselves back in the second half so that Wednesday's return is far from the foregone conclusion it appeared after 27 minutes.

'We are under no illusions because it will be hard up there but it is nice to be two goals in front at this stage,' Hoddle said. 'Some of our football in the first 45 minutes was just sensational.'

Pressed about suggestions surrounding his future, Hoddle said: 'I have got absolutely no comment about that at all. All my energies are reserved for the play-offs.'

As they used to write in the old days, Swindon kicked off with a rush and were immediately in front. Nicky Summerbee's cross was delivered to the near post where Steve Vickers, under pressure from Dave Mitchell, headed into his own net. Just 47 seconds later Mitchell had Tranmere all but ready to give up on their promotion dream as he stabbed home the rebound after Eric Nixon had failed to hold Ross MacLaren's drive.

Mitchell is wanted by Australia for a vital World Cup game with New Zealand on 31 May, the same day as the play-off final, which could present him with a dilemma, although Swindon are confident they can obtain his release. If his country catches sight of his performance here however they might well have second thoughts.

The journeyed striker was simply unstoppable and unselfishly laid on the third for Craig Maskell, his 22nd of the season.

Tranmere complained that Mitchell was offside just as they had protested the decision to rule out John Aldridge's fourth-minute header. John Morrissey's excellent 58th-minute goal after he jinked inside allows them to start on Wednesday with hope replenished.

Swindon Town: Digby; Summerbee, Bodin, Hoddle, Calderwood, Taylor, Moncur (Hazard, 90), MacLaren, Mitchell, Ling, Maskell (White, 76).

Tranmere Rovers: Nixon; Higgins, Brannan, Irons, Proctor, Vickers, Morrissey, Aldridge, Malkin, Nevin (Coyne, 74), Nolan. Substitute not used: Mungall.

Referee: A Gunn (Sussex).

Stockport held, Swansea win, page 29

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