Daniel Hunt travelled to Crewe with the injury, suspension and transfer embargo hit Swindon Town squad and a frustrated Paolo Di Canio.
Everything from the pre-match Fish n’ Chips, sub £3.00 pints in the supporters club bar and a run-in with ‘Gresty the Lion’ pointed to good evening ahead at one of the friendliest grounds in the country.
The welcome did not extend to the pitch, however, as Crewe’s good first half was enough to beat Swindon’s fantastic second half on the night. The indifferent run of form now stretches to just one win in the last five games. Once again, Town management and fans were left to rue poor finishing and stubborn League One defending. Aside from a slick 20 minute period at the end of the first half, Crewe were well and truly there for the beating.
To the relief of Sam Morshead and co, Paolo Di Canio found his tongue on Monday afternoon but only to tell us that Swindon Town were in the middle of an injury crisis. From the eleven that started against Scunthorpe on Saturday; Nathan Thompson and Paul Benson withdrew through injury, Aden Flint served his one match suspension while Darren Ward and Matt Ritchie were surprisingly consigned to the bench. In came Devera at right-back, Archibald-Henville partnered the returning captain, Alan McCormack, at centre half and there were also starts for De Vita and Adam Rooney on the right-wing and up front respectively.
Whilst the absence of five goal Matt Ritchie was the hot topic pre-match for the 273 travelling Robins, it was the return of Archibald-Henville that raised the biggest eyebrow. Darren Ward has been improving week by week – I know many disagree – to the point where it was silly to drop him. I could see the logic in playing the former Exeter man though, because Crewe have a massive centre forward called Mathias Pogba. Going into the match, I knew Pogba was going to be handful and he played like a League One Drogba, giving Town defenders a bruising evening. It frustrates me that a guy of Troy’s size fails to dominate aerially like Aden Flint does. On Troy’s part, he still doesn’t look as fit and composed as he did in the opening games of the season back in August.
Post match, young Miles Storey jokingly tweeted that he ‘needs to get match fit’ (people who blindly love Jeremy Wray, look away now!) and I think Jeremy Wray’s decision to do away with the reserve team in the summer of 2011 is hurting the fringe players. How are they supposed to come into the side match fit when they’re not playing matches? We will see it showcased again when Andy Williams and Alan Navarro return from their respective injuries into November.
The game took a long time to settle down and the only chances of note before De Vita’s opener in the 25th minute came from a couple of wayward headers wide by Rooney and Collins. Crewe were very keen to play out of the back and I commented to a friend in the opening stages that Town might have some joy capitalising on the Railwaymen overplaying. The guilty man was Abdul Osman, who gave the ball away on the left-wing before tripping his Swindon counterpart in an attempt to win the ball back. Tommy Miller curled the resulting free-kick towards the back post and De Vita did the rest with a deft flick header to make it 1-0. I wouldn’t have been the only Town fan who knew it was in as soon as it touched his head because of the angle we were sat in relation to the cross.
The lead would only last five minutes however as Town imploded and Crewe turned on the style before the half time break. I’m afraid that McCormack has to take the blame for the equaliser after a weak attempt at a tackle approaching the half way line. If he’d fully committed to the tackle, even if he’d given away a foul, the danger would have passed. As it was, Arsenal loanee ‘Chuks’ Aneke released West on the right wing and West’s low cross found its way to Byron Moore at the back post, and Moore gladly slid in for his first of the night.
Visibly lifted by the goal, some of the football Crewe played up to the interval was sublime. If Moore’s first goal was scruffy, his second was oozing with class. I couldn’t believe it when I saw that these were his first goals of the season. It was Archibald-Henville who found himself dragged too far up the pitch this time and the impressive Aneke again provided the killer pass to put Moore one-on-one with Devera. Not sure that Joe did anything wrong, Moore was just too fleet-footed as he jinked past the former Barnet man before calmly lifting the ball over a helpless Wes Foderingham. Great finish.
That Swindon were level when Crewe grabbed their second goal in the 43rd minute was down in no small part to Foderingham. From successive crosses from the right after 35 minutes, Wesley twice denied Aneke with fine reaction saves. The pressure was definitely building at an otherwise quiet Gresty Road.
There was a definite shift change in the second half as Town came flying out the blocks looking for the goals to fire them to a point or more. Crewe seemed content to sit on their lead and see what they could garner from counter-attacks and set-pieces. A sign of the frustration to come was displayed just three minutes into the half when Joe Devera’s cross was tipped onto the cross bar by goalkeeper Alan Martin. The better chance fell to De Vita on the follow up but his bullet header was straight at Martin.
Adam Rooney had a stinker quite frankly and his last act of the night was to shoot wide whilst falling over from 18 yards. This summed up his performance and he was quickly replaced by Miles Storey in the 53rd minute. Matt Ritchie was introduced two minutes later, for De Vita, as Di Canio played his trump card from a very inexperienced bench. Storey and Ritchie made a really positive difference and much like his fellow ‘speedstar’, Andy Williams, Storey adds a slightly different dimension to a fairly conventional side.
Martin’s best saves of the night came from the left peg of Gary Roberts. Firstly he brilliantly tipped over from a Roberts volley in the 58th minute before again denying the ex-Huddersfield man with 69 minutes on the clock. Roberts made it easier for Martin this time, after being smartly played in by Ferry, by neither shooting high nor low towards the corner of the net and Martin parried away smartly. In between Roberts double salvo, Matt Ritchie headed over from a Roberts cross and Joe Devera could only shoot tamely at Martin on his left foot following good interplay from Ferry and Ritchie.
Frustration became desperation as the game wore on and Swindon, screaming out for the presence of a Charlie Austin (who notched up his 17th and 18th goals of the season for Burnley on Tuesday), couldn’t blow the house down as Crewe manager, Steve Davis, said post-match. The standard of Town’s play so deserved a second goal but this didn’t account for determined Crewe blocking in and around the six yard box. Ritchie had a left volley blocked with fifteen minutes to go that was arrowing in and to rub salt into the wounds, Ritchie’s follow up effort was screwed just wide of Martin’s left hand post.
A sweet Roberts volley was next to be blocked from the left hand edge of the box after 83 minutes and in the resulting melee Archibald-Henville was harshly booked for going for the ball of all things! Crewe clearly saw this as a chance for a breather as not one, but two, players hit the deck to receive ‘treatment’. Professionalism, gamesmanship – call it what you want but it cheats the paying spectator.
The final insult came with a minute left on the clock as a low cross from the Swindon right whizzed all the way across goal with no-one in blue n’ yellow busting a gut, like Byron Moore before them, to get something on the end of it. James Collins put in a good shift and can hold his head high but this performance was crying out for, dare I say it, an angry striker…
May I suggest an embargo swear jar Mr Di Canio? You’d have raised enough money already to bring us out of this pesky embargo you are so loathe to mention.
Follow Daniel Hunt on Twitter – @dphunt88