A much changed Swindon Town paid the price for failing to turn possession and pressure into shots on target against bitter rivals Oxford United at the Kassam Stadium, writes Daniel Hunt.
A promising first half performance faded into the Oxfordshire night as a collision between new team mates, Ward and Flint, allowed Alfie Potter to snatch a barely deserved win for our neighbours up the A420 with just two minutes to go. Town can take heart from the fact that the redeemed Wes Foderingham had barely been troubled in a match that looked destined for the lottery of a penalty shoot-out.
Looking for a response following Sunday’s appalling performance at Deepdale, Di Canio had the luxury of making six changes to his starting line-up. Flint and Miller dropped to a five man bench while McEveley, Luke Rooney, Navarro and Collins weren’t involved at all. Debuts were handed to Bessone and Ward in defence and Coke and Adam Rooney in midfield. Ferry partnered Coke and Benson returned alongside the tireless Andy Williams.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but playing Adam Rooney on the right wing, instead of Luke, was a mistake that backfired. The Birmingham loanee looked lost out on the touchline until he was moved up front in the 66th minute. Bessone was comfortably the most impressive debutant on show, Giles Coke was steady and the less said about Darren Ward the better – for now!
Sheffield Wednesday loanee, Giles Coke, was the first man to spurn a golden chance for Swindon to take the lead in the 7th minute. After playing a neat one-two with Benson, Coke blasted wide from a great position inside the box on his otherwise cultured left foot. A little more composure was needed from Coke, who showed plenty of ability on the night.
In my eyes, Town could feel hard done by with 24 minutes on the clock. Williams rolled his marker on the edge of the box and was hauled down in his next couple of strides by an Oxford defender. There were cries for a penalty, at least a yellow card but neither were delivered by referee Scott Mathieson. The danger passed after Ward headed over the resulting free kick.
Adam Rooney couldn’t replicate Paul Caddis’ man of the match debut for his parent club Birmingham City but he had a great chance to get the ball rolling fifteen minutes before half time following a De Vita knock down from Devera’s right wing cross. Unfortunately, the on-loan Irishman leant back and sliced a right footed effort over when the goal was gaping from no more than ten yards.
The only bright first half moments for the Yellows came in the shape of a Jon Paul Pitman breakaway which was brilliantly ended by a Bessone sliding tackle following a crude miskick from McCormack and a Chapman free kick which skimmed the roof of the net with Foderingham well in control of the situation. I understand that Chapman has a chequered past but he looks a very handy footballer in League 2.
I was a fairly content man at the break, Swindon looked a league above their rivals without really troubling Clarke in the Oxford goal. The only downside had been Ward in central defence. The Millwall centre-half is known to me and many other Town fans through his commanding performances against us in the recent past. He had come on the promise of being a footballing defender, just like Di Canio demands, but Ward’s distribution looked very one-dimensional (i.e. long) all night. I’m sure there is better to come from the ‘Peckham Beckham’ but his circumstances are not too dis-similar from the last defender Millwall loaned us, Andy Frampton, and we all know how that turned out…
The second half started with the same gusto as the first and Swindon had a strong penalty appeal for handball turned down in the 49th minute. I’ve seen them given and would definitely like to see a replay. At the other end, a warning of things to come; Ward dallied on the half way line and Pitman took advantage to race down the left wing before firing high and wide with 57 minutes gone.
Just before the double substitution in the 66th minute, Williams set off on another powerful run from the centre circle which so nearly ended in a dream first goal for the club. Unfortunately, the former Yeovil man just couldn’t get his shot away and Adam Rooney’s follow up shot was blocked also. On came Bostock and Miller to replace Benson and Ferry with Rooney moving up front and Bostock playing wide right for the second substitute appearance in a row.
You can see that Di Canio is trying to craft Bostock into performing the Matt Ritchie role on the right of midfield. Neither are particularly quick but both are clever players who like to cut back on their left peg. Tame efforts wide and straight at the ‘keeper in the 72nd and 73rd minutes showed why Bostock still has some way to go before emulating the superb Ritchie. One thing that was somewhat overlooked amongst the hissy-fits of Sunday afternoon was just how much this side misses League Two’s player of year for 2011/2012. Come back soon Mr Ritchie.
I will not be asking for my Season Ticket money back but I will question the necessity of Di Canio’s final change with eight minutes to go. Flint replaced Coke with McCormack making a now rare foray into central midfield. Was there any need to change the back four with so little time to go? Would Storey not have provided more goal-scoring ‘oomph’ with pace to burn up top? Who knows?
What I know for sure is that Flint and Ward spectacularly got in each other’s way following a punt down field from the experienced Tony Capaldi in the 88th minute. The resulting breakaway by Royal Wootton Bassett resident James Constable laid a goal on a plate for Alfie Potter who duly obliged to break Swindon hearts. Credit where it’s due, Oxford are a resilient bunch who were missing key players too – Peter Leven and Michael Duberry for example. I expect them to challenge for promotion from League 2 this year*.
Time to reel off the clichés then? “It’s only the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy”, “it allows us to concentrate on the league”, etc. Ask any one of the 1,300 Robins in attendance and they’ll tell you how much this defeat hurts on top of the two derby defeats of last season. Plus, this has every right to feel like a league defeat after we had the privilege of paying £19 to watch it!
Ask Paolo Di Canio or Jeremy Wray how much importance they place on doing well in this competition and you’ll start to piece together how disappointing an evening this was for Swindon Town. The whole away day stinks – from the soulless arrangement of concrete and seats they call a ‘ground’ to being locked outside the ground waiting for local idiots to disperse after the match. Paolo, if you’re reading, may you forever keep us at least one league above Oxford United so we don’t have to re-address this hoodoo!
*until it all falls apart after Christmas as usual!
Follow Daniel Hunt on Twitter – @dphunt88