May 2013: Play-Off comeback, penalties and agony…

2013.05 Play Offs

2013 is nearly over and it has truly been an eventful and unforgettable year at Swindon Town. Brendan Hobbs jumped at the chance of writing our review of 2013, which has turned into an epic feature of writing; you’ve now made it to part four. There’s a few more to come, this is only…

May

The playoffs loomed in the shape of a two legged tie against a hugely deflated Brentford side. The Bees had a chance to gain automatic promotion with practically the last kick of the regular season but were denied when on loan striker Marcelo Trotta missed an injury time penalty. Their misery compounded by their rivals on the pitch and in the league table, Doncaster, sweeping up the other end to net an improbable winner. Heart-breaking for the fans, but at least they had a second chance against a meandering Town displaying such patchy form.

The opening fixture at the County Ground promised to be a tight one, and that is exactly what was delivered, although the frenetic opening ten minutes gave no indication of this with Adam Rooney getting the first opportunity within the first thirty seconds of the kick-off courtesy of a defensive slip.

In the end the first leg’s score line was decided by a moment of brilliance and a moment of madness from the same player, Massimo Luongo. Following good work from Simon Ferry on the right, the on-loan Tottenham youngster curled a delicious effort from just outside the box into the bottom corner, leaving the goalie grasping thin air. A massive moment, a moment of delirium and also a moment that changed the game.

After a couple more efforts you started getting the distinct impression Town were happy to defend the lead and more importantly as time went on, we looked less capable of doing so – you can only imagine how PDC would’ve reacted.

Sure enough, in the fourth minute of added on time, the constant attacking threat of Harry Forrester received the ball in the box, his bad touch took him away from goal but also into the lunging tackle of Luongo. The ref didn’t hesitate pointing to the spot, if only he had done that earlier as Town themselves had two very good shouts for a penalty turned down. Kevin O’Connor made no mistake from the spot.

Half time, deep breath.

The second leg was played out in glorious sunshine and with the game evenly poised who knew what to expect. I wasn’t expecting a fast start from Town and my optimism was rewarded with some sluggish passing and lacklustre movement, not the greatest of first half performances, with the lively Brentford ramming home their dominance with two easy goals, game over.

Or so we thought, Adam Rooney powered in an effort just before half-time to give us hope for a big turnaround in the second half. But Gary Roberts conspired to kick that dream out of us as immediately after kick-off as he sent a lazy, wafted cross field ball to no-one except a rampant Clayton Donaldson, who practically ran the length of the field to score, game over.

Or so we thought, the lovely Joe Devera pounced in the six yard box to reduce the arrears and we braced ourselves for a Town backlash, a veritable siege on the Brentford goal. It didn’t come and in fact it was the Bees who looked more likely to sting.

Or so we thought, step forward Aden Flint, in the 95th minute, with a penalty shout still ringing in everyone’s ears, that wonderful scarecrow of a man rose like a soaring recipient in a line-out to nod Town level. Now I never went to Griffin Park, so I’ll leave it up to the words of Richard Banyard, mastermind of the excellent http://www.swindon-town-fc.co.uk site, who summed it up beautifully in his match report:

“As I tweeted earlier, when I think back to yesterday, I can’t help but smile. Obviously not because of the result – but the celebrations after Aden Flint’s thumping 95th minute header will live far longer in the memory than what followed. As that ball hit the back of the net, all hell broke loose just behind it – I hugged my dad, I hugged a couple of other complete strangers. You haven’t celebrated a goal properly if you haven’t drawn blood before, or at the very least smashed your sunglasses. I feel a bit sorry for the armchair fans of Utd/City/Chelsea or whoever, who don’t get to experience that kind of raw emotion. These people just don’t know football, not really.”

The only thought going around in my head now was how Brentford would react, denied at the death in the regular campaign, denied at the death in the play-offs, surely this would leave them beaten?

Unfortunately any chance of Swindon snatching the win disappeared after Nathan Byrne’s red card in extra time; the Town resolutely resigned themselves to defending the status quo, holding out for a penalty shootout.

We all know what happened, so let’s not dwell, but it still annoys me to this day that it was left to young Miles Storey to take the crucial kick, whilst ‘senior pros’ like Alan McCormack declined to take one, seemingly shying away from the responsibility.

It capped off, on reflection, a fine season. With lots of highs and lows and off field hassles to keep the various modes of social media at a constant fever pitch – it certainly was action packed and it served as a reminder of what makes watching Swindon an absolute ‘pleasure’.

It was probably best that we didn’t get promotion, what with all the boardroom distractions rumbling on. I feel we would’ve been ill-prepared for an assault on the Championship and any pursuit of consolidation in that league could’ve been detrimental to our long-term health – but we will never know. Brentford wouldn’t know either as they were beaten by surprise package Yeovil in the final, a team we beat with ease twice in the regular season.

So, what would await Town next season? Well, the close season alone provided a few surprises…

Read the rest of our review of 2013

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