Bolton Wanderers 1
The rewards of a place at Wembley proved too much for a few hotheads at the County Ground yesterday, as they conspired to bring a fractious finale to this Coca-Cola Cup semi-final first leg which was contested in high winds and with high passion and strong commitment.
Two minutes remained when the Swindon defender Mark Robinson was sent off after he clouted John McGinlay on the back of the head, and on the final whistle Steve McMahon, the Swindon player-manager, had to be pulled away as he remonstrated angrily with the Bolton striker.
"Robinson deserved to be sent off, but then so did McGinlay for the challenge," McMahon said. "Our lad missed six months of his career after a similar tackle, and it was only natural that he reacted the way he did. He had a right to be frustrated because it was a late tackle and dangerous."
Until then, the story of a switchback semi-final was scripted by Peter Thorne, Swindon's new £225,000 signing, who brought his team back to life after they had been in danger of being blown away by the force of Bolton's whirlwind start. Thorne, rejected by Wanderers as a schoolboy, had attempted to make his way with Blackburn but with competition from strikers of the calibre of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton his career was signposted elsewhere.
He arrived at Swindon two weeks ago and immediately embarked on a scoring spree, the pair that flattened Bolton yesterday adding to a brace at Burnley the week before which saw him off in champagne style.
Bolton, the First Division leaders, showed up well early on and might have scored when Scott Green burst through only to lash his shot wide. Nicky Hammond then spread himself superbly to deflect an effort from David Lee that was arrowing towards the far corner of the net. From the ensuing corner Bolton took the lead. Alan Stubbs read it better than any defender and drove the ball through the goalkeeper's despairing dive.
It took Swindon an awfully long while to get into the game, and McMahon said they were guilty of conferring too much respect on their opponents, renowned cup battlers in recent seasons. The one-way flow began to shift after the half-hour and in the 38th minute, following a slick combination between Martin Ling and Joey Beauchamp, Thorne soared to apply a far-post header to a deep cross.
The pace never relented and chances were created and missed at both ends before, with 14 minutes left, Thorn profited from close in after Jan ge Fjrtoft had won himself vital penalty area shooting space. Bruce Rioch, the Bolton manager, could hardly fathom how his team had fallen away after such encouraging beginnings. Rest assured they will be stoked up for the second leg nine days from now.
Swindon Town (4-4-2): Hammond; O'Sullivan, Robinson, Taylor, Murray; Ling, Nijholt, Horlock, Beauchamp; Thorn, Fjrtoft. Substitutes not used: Digby (gk), Thomson, Mutch.
Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Branagan; Green, Coleman, Stubbs, Phillips; Lee, Sneekes, McAteer, Thompson; Coyle, (McGinlay, 70), Paatelainen. Substitutes not used: Davison (gk), Lydiate.
Referee: P Alcock (Redhill).
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