Football: McMahon ends misery run

Swindon Town 3 Bristol City 2
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Swindon Town 3 Bristol City 2

IT WAS an agonising afternoon for Steve McMahon, manager of Swindon since November 1994, who was close to becoming their ex-manager before the current season began.

His team had not won at the County Ground since January during a calamitous run that plunged them to the brink of relegation last season and seemed to have spilled over into the new campaign.

Three-nil up before some spectators had settled into their seats, Swindon, pegged back to 3-2 as Bristol City laid siege to their goal, had to survive two men sent off - and their goalkeeper was forced to play on with a broken nose. As the referee added eight minutes of stoppage time, McMahon watched Bristol's Ade Akinbiyi hit the bar twice, before at last sampling the relief of a victory.

"It was hard to stand and watch it, I must admit," McMahon said. "But the players deserve the result because they stuck with it. At least we managed to win it, and maybe that means our luck is changing at last. I think we deserve it."

The last few months have led the 36-year-old former Liverpool and England midfield player to wonder whether he really wants to manage a club with no money and few prospects, especially when it means suffering the abuse of disgruntled supporters.

Swindon's faltering fortunes - a run of four wins in 29 games last season turned them from promotion candidates to relegation fodder - have also encroached upon his family life. His family have been the targets of abuse, too, especially his children.

"I was wondering whether it was all worthwhile," he said, confirming that he had considered resigning. "But a lot of players rang me to tell me they wanted me to stay and that was very important. Feeling I had the full backing of the players gave me a real lift."

Even so, there were times when even the potentially harrowing idea of taking over at Manchester City - a job he turned down in 1997 - must have seemed attractive. The calls for him to go had begun to mount this season after three defeats in the first five First Division matches, and chairman Rikki Hunt felt obliged to offer a vote of confidence only last week.

Saturday's result has quietened the barrackers for the moment, although it was touch and go as promoted Bristol City battered away at Frank Talia's goal.

Yet Swindon's opening could not have been more emphatically successful. Mark Walters, who slotted home a second-minute penalty, played a part in setting up the second for George Ndah, and laid on the third for Iffy Onuora as a County Ground crowd who had witnessed only one Swindon goal in four matches could scarcely believe what their eyes were seeing.

But even with a three-goal cushion, their team was still vulnerable. In an eventful second half, Akinbiyi hit back after 62 minutes and collided with Talia in the process, leaving the Swindon goalkeeper with a broken nose. With no reserve on the bench, he was patched up and played on for half an hour before going to hospital.

Before then, substitute Sol Davis had been sent off for the foul on Scott Murray that led to Micky Bell adding City's second from the penalty spot, and Robin Hulbert was also dismissed after committing two yellow card offences in the 10 minutes he was on the field.

A third Bristol goal would have come as no surprise. But the final whistle beat them to it and allowed McMahon, for once, to remember why he still wants to be manager.

Goals: Walters (pen 2) 1-0; Ndah (5) 2-0; Onuora (8) 3-0; Akinbiyi (62) 3-1; Bell (pen 75) 3-2.

Swindon Town (4-4-2): Talia; Kerslake, Reeves, Borrows (Davis, 21),Hall; Walters, Bullock, Leitch (Hulbert, 78), Gooden; Ndah, Onuora. Substitute not used: Cowe.

Bristol City (4-4-2): Welch; Locke, Watts, Dyche, Bell; Murray, Doherty, Edwards (Cramb, h-t), Tinnion; Thorpe (Hewlett, h-t), Akinbiyi. Substitute not used: Brennan.

Referee: P Rejer (Leamington Spa)

Sendings off: Swindon: Davis, Hulbert. Bookings: Swindon: Walters, Bullock, Hulbert. Bristol City: Watts, Thorpe.

Attendance: 8,537.

Man of the match: Walters.