Swindon Town faced Chesterfield at Wembley to contest the 29th final of the Football League Trophy, writes Ron Smith. Defying post match predictions of the silverware departing to Wiltshire for the first time, the Spireites caught Town napping at either end of the second half to secure a comfortable 2-0 victory thanks to an Oliver Risser own goal and a late Craig Westcarr strike.
Unlike our previous visit back in May 2010 the weather was warm and a friendly and relaxed welcome greeted 30,000 confident Town fans at the national stadium. However we soon discovered the similarities to that Play-Off final match lay in the performance on the pitch. Swindon were outmanoeuvred, out-muscled, out-thought and lacking in any attacking force on the hallowed Wembley turf – or so they used to say…
Di Canio made a single change to the XI that beat Torquay United on Tuesday night, with Alessandro Cibocchi replaced with Barnsley loanee Jay McEveley who made his debut on the biggest of stages. With Aden Flint not selected as one of the five substitutes, Town continued with their makeshift defence that included Oliver Risser partnering Alan McCormack and Joe Devera filling in for the injured Paul Caddis on the right.
As expected Chesterfield started the quicker, but their early forays forward didn’t give the Spireites the lead. Their best and only chance of the first half to test Wes Foderingham came early on. After Frank Moussa gained the ball he found Jack Lester who fired a pass forward to Jordan Bowery. The Chesterfield forward looked offside – from my high position behind the goal – but was allowed to advance with only McCormack in chase. Fortunately Bowery stumbled under no pressure when setting himself up to shoot and the ball was easily cleared.
Shortly afterwards Chesterfield fans did celebrate, but only momentarily as Jack Lester’s close range effort after Simon Ford’s header hit the bar was denied by the linesman’s raised flag with Ford judged to have been offside.
As for Swindon, our first half was a story of wayward passing – notably from Jonathan Smith and Jay McEverley, Matt Ritchie being played off the pitch, speculative shots from distance and an overeliance on Lee Holmes on the left of midfield.
With Ritchie tightly marked by Nathan Smith and largely out of the game, Town found space on the left where Lee Holmes was given time to run at James Hurst. Holmes was not only the provider of several crosses, which Benson and Connell failed to convert, the loanee from Southampton had two of Swindon’s best chances of the half.
The first after 18 minutes Holmes found himself with the ball on the right side and his curling cross shaded the bar. His second after 28 minutes followed a neat shimmy to turn and cut inside to shoot from the edge of the D, but his shot was deflected off Josh Thompson and saved by Lee to tip the ball wide of the upright.
Holmes was our best hope as the opening periods progressed, however he was alone on the left as debutant Jay McEverly didn’t see sight of Chesterfield’s half to provide the usual overlap that has been our threat this campaign. In truth, McEverley looked jaded from the start.
The pressure was never incessant for either side as the majority of the game was fought in the midfield with Swindon starting to dominate and retain possession, but there was ultimately little to show for our increased workrate.
As ever Town needed the first goal to settle their and our nerves, that would allow the Reds to stamp their usual authority on the game. Alan Connell had that chance 5 minutes from the end of the half and one he’ll be kicking himself for missing. After Holmes’ cross was returned across the face of the goal by the leaping Benson, Connell found himself with his back to goal, but in acres of space with time to control and shoot. His effort was a less than acrobatic volley, which flew wide of Lee’s left hand post.
No sooner had the second half kicked off, Chesterfield quickly built upon John Sheridan’s team talk and took the lead.
Initially Jordan Bowery’s shot was saved by Wes Foderingham, but Town only cleared to ball out to Alex Mendy, whose low ball across the goal was turned into the net by the outstretched leg of Oliver Risser.
This event is hardly going to endear the Namibian to large sections of the Town support which he’s been slowly regaining their confidence in recent weeks. However, there is little excuse for sticking out his leg under little pressure from Westcarr, when Foderingham would have had no trouble in taking the ball. We all know Risser isn’t really a central defender, but he has years of experience and surely either him or Foderingham has let themselves down in not communicating this was the ‘keeper’s ball.
For a short while the pace of the game picked up as Swindon sought to equalise, however what little and inefficient action Town had going forward proved only to demonstrate how dangerous the Spireites could be breaking back on the counter attack.
Similar to his change at Crewe a week ago, Di Canio’s first substitution replace Risser with Ronan Murray. The Irishman settled down to play behind the front two, leaving three at the back. A risky approach considering Chesterfield retained their two frontmen, but a necessary change to control the game up field. With John Bostock making his debut in place of Jonathan Smith a few minutes later, the midfield lost what ever little balance it had, but raising questions why the Spurs loanee – an ideal attacking midfielder for the role Murray had settled into – not being preferred to take the role behind Benson and Connell.
The 3-4-3 Town employed made little difference and only served to make an already panicky side increasingly vulnerable at the back. Despite dominating possession - 60/40 – Swindon still failed to generate any meaningful chances, mainly because of the solid Chesterfield midfield and back four being first to all balls, continuing to mark Ritchie out of the game and lapping up crosses, but also because Town’s passing and final ball was wasteful and hurried. With limited action at the Chesterfield goal the support behind the goal became muted. So much so that all that could be heard were the bells softly ringing on a jester hat several rows in front.
Chesterfield capitalised on Town’s defensive weakness when Drew Talbot flicked the ball on for Craig Westcarr. The former Notts County man ran clear one-on-one towards Foderingham, only to pull his shot narrowly wide of the left of the post, when he looked certain to score.
As the clock counted down – seemingly quicker than I had ever experienced before - Town had chances, but again, these were few and far between. The best being when Murray and Holmes combined well, but the winger’s tame shot was easily saved by Tommy Lee.
Town’s pressure stepped up a gear in the final minutes and would have had the equaliser when Alessandro Cibocchi jumped highest to power his header hard and high, only for ‘keeper Lee to superbly react, tipping the ball over the crossbar. Considering Lee had done next to nothing for 85 minutes his reactions were world class, no wonder he’s won their player of the year for the past two seasons…
Referee Bates added 4 minutes, but in reality he could have added on another 90 minutes and I doubt we’d seen Swindon hit the back of the net. It was never going to be our day.
The Spireites needed just 3 added minutes to seal their deserved victory and rub further salt in Town’s wounds. Swindon’s makeshift defence pushed up too high to support our attacking finish, however substitute Craig Westcarr beat the offside trap to run well clear of Alan McCormack and coolly sloting past Foderingham to make it 2-0. The goal provided the icing on the cake for Chesterfield, merely reflecting their overall clinical final ball and finishing…. Congratulations to the Spireites on their victory.
Any defeat is disappointing, especially a Wembley final loss which hurts, but some Town supporters must realise to reach any cup final is a success in itself, a win would have been the bonus on what is already a true season to remember. We must capitalise on our strong league position and secure the title, because as I’ve always said I’d take the League Two title over winning the JPT and that feeling hasn’t changed.