Football: Swindon lack steel

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The Independent Online
Sheffield United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

Swindon Town. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

IF ANYTHING can be gauged from this segment of the opening- day action it is that neither team will be collecting much prize- money next May.

Swindon's neat football carries the Hoddle imprint but the Premier League is a tougher environment than anything they have experienced before and United's struggles to survive have taught them enough not to let easy pickings go to waste, limited though their ambitions may be.

Swindon have brought in Adrian Whitbread, a pounds 500,000 capture from Leyton Orient, to fill the hole in defence left by Colin Calderwood. The new arrival put together a sound enough debut, but his side none the less conceded two goals at set pieces.

The first provided Willie Falconer, signed from Middlesbrough last week, with an immediate route into his new home crowds's favour when a Dane Whitehouse free-kick on the right was nudged towards the far post by Alan Cork. The second resulted in an extraordinary goal for Carl Bradshaw, who headed another Whitehouse free-kick into the corner farthest from him.

United's third goal, which killed off Swindon's hopes of a point, stemmed from their most frequent ploy: the long ball to the speedy Andy Scott. Fraser Digby kept out Scott's own attempt but Paul Rogers followed up swiftly. Poor Swindon. They are destined to be the team everyone feels sorry for. Their flexible formation, with Ross MacLaren playing sweeper, often promised much, and John Moncur's busy contribution on the left of midfield caught the eye.

Indeed, it was Moncur, striking a beautifully flighted, quickly taken free-kick wide of Alan Kelly's left hand from 25 yards, who gained them an equaliser a minute into the second half. But Craig Maskell squandered a chance to put them ahead two minutes before United's second goal and they will need some of their host's steel if a quick return to the First Division is to be avoided.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): A Kelly; M Ward (K Gage, 82 min), D Tuttle, J Pemberton, P Beesley; C Bradshaw, P Rogers, W Falconer, D Whitehouse (A Littlejohn, 89 min); A Cork, A Scott. Sub not used: S Tracey (gk). Manager: D Bassett.

Swindon (5-2-3): F Digby; N Summerbee, R MacLaren, A Whitbread, S Taylor, L Nijholt; M Ling, J Moncur; S White, C Maskell, J-A Fjortoft (K Horlock, 70 min). Subs not used: N Hammond (gk), A Viveash. Manager: J Gorman.

Referee: I Borrett (Norfolk).

Goals: Falconer (1-0, 21 min); Moncur (1-1, 46 min); Bradshaw (2-1, 76 min); Rogers (3-1, 84 min).