Can Swindon Town could go through the remainder of the season unbeaten? After seeing Town gain a well-merited draw at the form team of the division, Bournemouth, on Saturday the answer has to be yes.
Automatic promotion remains there for the taking because at the weekend we learnt that this side need fear no one in League One.
Swindon will have to play in front of more intimidating crowds than the one at genteel Bournemouth in the coming weeks, but Eddie Howe is building something sustainable at the Goldsands Stadium with chairman Eddie Mitchell’s millions.
A club record 18-game unbeaten run is not to be sniffed at.
So to come from behind and force a late draw in conditions that would have suited dolphins, never mind ducks, proved that Town do have the character necessary to win this league.
Cherries fans might have it that the hosts edged the contest on points.
However, Swindon played superbly well going forward and were gritty and composed under pressure.
In fact, they created the three most clearcut chances in the game, although having to wait until five minutes from time before hitting the back of the net.
The biblical deluge before and during the game did not spoil the contest at all. It was terrific entertainment and the likelihood of mistakes caused by the conditions actually ratcheted up the tension even more.
The majority of slip-ups and miscues came from the Bournemouth defence, though never once did a loose ball break in our favour.
Swindon’s intentions were evident from the outset when a fiercely-hit Tommy Miler shot was kept out only by a world class save from David James.
His counterpart Wes Foderingham was a virtual spectator (again) in the opening 45 minutes, while James needed to be on his toes throughout to mop up back passes and through balls.
He should definitely have been picking the ball out of his own net on 35 minutes, only for James Collins, four-goal hero in the Pompey game recently, to somehow miss an open goal.
By that stage Bournemouth were ahead through Harry Arter’s strike on 25 minutes, their only meaningful shot on target in the first half.
The deeply satisfying response for Town fans was that the players did not curl up. Indeed, they put the Cherries on the back foot for the rest of the half.
A groundsman ‘sponge-rolled’ the most sodden areas around halfway at the break, the referee and the assessor deemed the surface playable and James, who had spent a lot of time diving around on the floor, emerged in the second half with fresh, lurid yellow kit in place of the green of the first period.
Granted, Bournemouth were the better side in the second half, Wes at last earning his corn with good saves from a Brett Pitman shot and a Lewis Grabban header. But again the best opportunity fell to Town. With virtually his first touch after coming on as sub, Raffa De Vita found the tremendously industrious Matt Ritchie with a cross.
We hadn’t seem many of his trademark pot-shots but on this occasion he sent one fizzing for goal, only to see a wrong-footed James stick out a leg to keep it out. It had looked a certain goal.
As the clock ran down, it began to look like Town would not get the point their skill and guts deserved – but they kept trying, so there always hope.
Then James made a nonsense of his official man of the match vote by fluffing a clearance. Within seconds Andy Williams was presented with a empty net from 20 yards on his left foot.
To keep the shot on target under such circumstances required great composure under pressure. And here we did get our one slice of luck. Williams conspired to send the shot towards the only obstacle – Steve Cook racing back to defend centrally on the line. Fortunately, the unbalanced Cook swung and missed – and Town were level.
Cue delirious celebrations among the 1,350 plus travelling army, who had already taunted Bournemouth’s seasonal best sell-out crowd with ‘You’re only here to watch the Town’.
In the last five (+3) minutes the Cherries were hanging on and Town could even have nicked it.
In this mood, Town should not be troubled at home on Saturday by Shrewsbury, who looked distinctly ordinary at their place when we beat them earlier this season.
Then it is a raft of four consecutive away matches including tough-on-paper visits to Tranmere and Crawley.
Yes, they are difficult assignments, but the belief that typified Paolo Di Canio’s squad post-Christmas last season appears to be building again.
From the turn of the year, we won 16, drew one and lost just two of our next 19 games – a sequence that killed off the opposition and laid the foundation for our League Two title. Granted no fresh injuries – and we surely had more than our fair share in the first half of the campaign – we have a squad capable of winning back-to-back championships. And Navarro, McEveley and Storey are ready to return from the wings.
We are unbeaten in 2013 – let’s keep it that way.
n TV-friendly Swindon Town have picked up another Sky Sports slot – away to Doncaster on April 1.