Di Canio's passion stirs up Swindon
Swindon Town 2 Wigan Athletic 1
The County Ground
Monday 09 January 2012
Paolo Di Canio won just as many friends as enemies in a playing career full of contradictions. It appears the boom-or-bust managerial appointment of Di Canio, albeit with upwardly-mobile League Two club Swindon Town, is moving along a similar path.
From famously earning an 11-match ban for pushing over referee Paul Alcock 14 years ago at Sheffield Wednesday to winning a Fifa Fair Play award in 2001 at West Ham, the explosive maverick was always in danger of going off at any given time.
Anyone at the County Ground who saw him mastermind the FA Cup scalp of Wigan will see he remains that animated human firecracker ever ready to explode. Management has yet to mellow the 43-year-old. But perhaps there is more than meets the eye with the mercurial Italian. Behind the cajoling, barracking and constant dialogue to anyone within earshot of the dugout, there were signs of a new Di Canio.
Preaching self-control, discipline and restraint to his players in the aftermath of Paul Benson's scruffy late goal that would eventually send Swindon through to the fourth round, Di Canio illustrated a side to him that suggests passion is not the only overriding factor on his CV.
"There is nothing like playing for Paolo Di Canio," said striker Alan Connell, whose first-half equaliser had set Swindon on the way to their upset. "He was passionate as a player and he's carried that trait into management, but his attention to detail is incredible.
"Everyone focuses on his mannerisms on the touchline, but he does a lot of research with his technical staff before every game, he shares all the relevant intelligence with us and we carried out his instructions to the letter. But it is his passion which rubs off on the players."
That word "passion" crops up a lot when Di Canio is involved. Sometimes it's hard to see beyond that. No doubt Leon Clarke, the striker removed from the club – sent to Charlton in a new year swap for Benson – after a publicised spat with the Italian, will vouch for that.
The same could be said for the Football Association's disciplinary panel as they studied footage of his dash onto the pitch to join the goal celebrations in the closing stages at Northampton Town on New Year's Eve.
But, for once, this was not just the Di Canio show. Wigan might have made wholesale changes, but Swindon had no right to out-pass, out-think and out-play Premier League opponents who lie three divisions and 53 places above them in the League standings.
Even after Callum McManaman had swept Wigan ahead, converting the rebound after Ben Watson's 35th-minute penalty had struck a post, you sensed there was always a whiff of an upset in the Wiltshire air.
It was no surprise, with chances having come and gone, when Connell flicked home Matt Ritchie's cross barely five minutes later.
Swindon continued to charge forward, dominated the tie and were duly rewarded for their pressure when Ritchie's shot was diverted past a stranded Ali al-Habsi by half-time substitute Benson in the 76th minute.
Of course, with every magic sprinkle of that FA Cup dust comes a story. Step forward Benson, the 32-year-old striker, who found impeccable timing to score his first Swindon goal in just his second game for his new club.
"I was due to come here on loan and we missed the deadline by three minutes back in November, so that didn't go ahead," recalled Benson. "But I might have been Cup-tied here because I had a chat to Chris Powell, the Charlton manager, and he was going to play me in the first round against Halifax.
"He pulled me aside before the team travelled and told me he didn't want to Cup-tie me if I was leaving in January. I was devastated at the time, but now I think it is one of the best decisions he has ever made."
The competition may continue to be devalued, but Wigan manager Roberto Martinez's focus is entirely on Premier League safety and this giant-killing only appeared to serve the long-term interests of his Wigan side.
"Our priority is the Premier League and our aim is to achieve a certain amount of points," he admitted. "I don't see this as a setback. [The FA Cup] is a fantastic competition, but winning the Cup for us is staying in the Premier League and the day we get 40 points."
Swindon Town (4-5-1): Foderingham; Caddis, Flint, McCormack, Kennedy; Connell (Magera, 66), De Vita (Cibocchi, 87), J Smith, Ferry, Ritchie; Murray (Benson, h-t). Substitutes not used: P Smith (gk), Devera, Gabilondo, Thompson
Wigan Athletic (4-5-1): Al-Habsi; Boyce, Lopez, Caldwell, Mustoe; McArthur, Watson (Gomez, 56), Thomas, Maloney (Moses 77), McManaman (Sammon, 90); Di Santo. Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Gohouri, Redmond, Dicko.
Goals: Connell 40, Benson 76, McManaman 35
Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).
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