Two defeats in a row is an unusual run of form for the Town, first time it’s happened in fact since August, but promotion was still secured at Gillingham after a 3-1 defeat. Adam Johnson was there for the party…
It’s an odd feeling, celebrating promotion after a defeat. However that odd feeling only lasted all of 10 seconds as Swindon, after a season of drama and at times unstoppable football, claimed their place in League One.
It’s been a tough week for the Town and hasn’t been the ideal way to secure promotion. Gillingham was the chance to write the wrongs and clinch promotion so one out of two isn’t bad going, and being a Swindon fan, you take whatever success lands in your lap.
The defeat wasn’t as bad as Aldershot and that is a positive to take. The stats tell the story with Town having 54% possession and 18 shots on goal. We had the ball and a lack of cutting edge was our enemy.
Without the usual Mr reliable Paul Benson, through a neck injury, it was left to Alan Connell and a new formation of 4-5-1 to clinch the title. The elements are there for this formation to work with John Bostock supporting Connell in midfield and the added help of Ritchie and Holmes on the wings.
Town for the first 20 minutes could have got the ball and given it their own pet name as it wouldn’t leave their side. However, Barcelona taught us versus Chelsea that possession isn’t enough on its own. To be clear, we weren’t that in control, but you get the point.
Town were the better team, playing football along the ground and it was Connell who had a shot on the turn but didn’t connect properly to test the opposition keeper. This was all Town had to boast with their control as Gillingham did what we now call in football, a ‘Stoke’.
A long throw from Charlie Lee found the head of striker Danny Kedwell who flicked it over and into Phil Smith’s net to open the scoring with their first real chance. That’s not said in a bittering way, as Swindon hadn’t taken advantage of their possession and were being shutdown effectively by the Gills.
It was from here that the rest of the half turned into a mess, off the pitch and on it. Di Canio, presumably frustrated by the lack of end product and creativity, sought a change unpopular with the travelling support by bringing off Connell for Ronan Murray.
I see a tactical sense to the change as Town were the better team with the ball on the ground and with the added pace of Murray supported on the wings from Ritchie and Holmes, Paolo could have been looking for quicker passing movement with a 4-2-3-1 but this didn’t show in practice.
Gillingham was on the front foot and had the chances to double their lead. Half time though couldn’t come soon enough and when it did, the always flamboyant Di Canio shouted towards the Town fans, maybe an apology? An explanation? Who knows.
As the players returned early for the second half, so did the possession with Town back in control but again not creating chances. Bostock was the bright spark finding space and his pass found Lee Holmes in the area but his shot was blazed high and wide.
Low and behold though Town were ruing their lack of end product as Oliver Risser’s poor pass, which was his last before being subbed off for Jonathan Smith, let in Chris Whelpdale to slot his shot into the top corner.
Swindon once again though, rather than saying we were unlucky, were getting what they deserved for their lack of cutting edge. Swindon turned back to the tried and tested right side of Caddis, Ritchie and Ferry but to no luck as Gillingham troubled again by clipping the post.
A rare chance for Murray did open up as he had the chance to run one on one at former Town player Andy Frampton. Murray though couldn’t evade the defender as his eventual shot was blocked.
Then, Alan ‘Macca’ McCormack showed how it’s done as he brought out of the bag his attacking boots. He skipped past three players before playing a one two to shoot from 20 yards to get a goal back.
As news came through of goals from matches involving both Torquay and Crawley in Town’s favour the celebrations began with the familiar songs. Eyes went off the pitch and onto the live score update on the phone.
To seal the defeat, deep into stoppage time, Jonathan Smith brought down former Town player Curtis Weston to give Gillingham their third goal. This didn’t dampen the mood as Whelpdales second was celebrated by the travelling Town fans whose cares had gone out of the window.
As the full time whistle blew, Town were awaiting the ‘official’ confirmation that’s avoided them and as the tannoy announced the great news, the away end burst into familiar song. Defeat and all ninety minutes previous were forgotten and promotion could be enjoyed.
It was a game to forget but definitely an after party to remember as the players celebrated the season’s efforts by trying to pull down each other’s shorts and pushing Mark Clemmit from the Football League Show over. Di Canio showed us his scarf as per usual and Jeremy Wray gave us his Paolo impression by pointing to the sky.
The Championship is Paolo’s next step, not the trophy but the league, and as he said these last two games showed our weaknesses. With the defence out of form in those games our lack of attacking threat has shone brighter and this will be an area to address.
However, the defeat to Gillingham was merely a chapter in the whole story of the season and we still have the chance to write our own fairy tale ending next Saturday versus Port Vale by clinching the title.