Swindon Town 2-1 Bradford City: Massive victory

2015.02.24 Bradford

A Massimo Luongo inspired Swindon Town returned to winning ways with a tense 2-1 victory over promotion rivals Bradford City, achieving something that Chelsea and Sunderland haven’t been able to do in the process. Writes Daniel Hunt… 

The Swindon that we all know and love put on a marvellous first half show and the unambitious Bantams should have been three or four goals down at the break but for some profligate finishing from Andy Williams.

A sloppy start to the second half was capped off by another individual error from Captain Nathan Thompson and Bradford were handed an undeserved route back into the game. This set up a tetchy last half hour where Bradford threw everything they had at Town but the returning Raphael Rossi-Branco stood firm like a Gladiatorial warrior amidst the barrage! Swindon have closed the gap to second place MK Dons to two points but with Bristol City, Preston and Sheffield United also winning on the night, it’s clear that it’s going to be a difficult job to maintain the automatic promotion push.

Mark Cooper’s men must also be congratulated for putting up with some more bizarre League One refereeing. James Meredith stayed on the pitch before half time and ex-Town man Stephen Darby getting wrongly sent off and then reinstated in stoppage time! There was also a nerve-ridden home crowd of 6,812 who, after showing so much patience/appreciation with the style of football this year, went to pieces in the second half.

Has a recent run of four defeats in five has done away with the extra supporters gained through six months of hard work this season? What is more obvious is that the pressure of being in a promotion race is particularly taxing not only on the players but also the fan base.

My pre-match team prediction was only one player out, I would have started Jonathan Obika above Michael Smith by virtue of the ex-Tottenham man scoring twice against Bradford back in September, but the balance of the side and energy in the middle of the park seemed much more like it. Yaser Kasim and John Swift are undoubtedly fine players but their performances against Crawley were walking pace and pedestrian. Ben Gladwin’s versatility got the nod on the left hand side as Toffolo was given a place on the bench for his awful first half against Crawley Town.

As I’ve already touched on, this game was made for League One’s David Luiz impersonator, Raphael Rossi-Branco. Jon Stead was Bradford’s lone man up front in the first half, with Billy Clarke in the ‘hole’ behind him, but Stead got no change out of Rossi-Branco et al. all night. Bradford were frankly useless in the opening period and Swindon were given all the time in the world to play out from the back and mould their attacks from wide through the impressive Gladwin and the lively Byrne.

Before Massimo Luongo drilled Swindon into a 15th minute lead, Gladwin had already planted a delicious left foot cross onto the head of Williams who could only head over from 3-4 yards. I’ve not seen the chance again but my gut feeling is that it was a pretty glaring miss. The opening goal was ruthlessly put away by the ‘Aussie Beckham’ however. Collecting a Stephens pass on the right edge of the box, Luongo shifted cleverly onto his right foot before drilling low across Jordan Pickford’s goal for the lead.

Andy Williams was gift wrapped an opportunity to double Swindon’s lead as one of the Bradford defenders inexplicably let the ball run into the path of Town’s 20-goal man. With only the ‘keeper to beat from ten yards, Williams curled the ball onto the crossbar just like he did at Scunthorpe on Valentines Day.

Swindon didn’t have to wait long for the second goal though. In the 33rd minute Jordan Turnbull got up a head of steam as he surged into the Bradford half unchallenged. The on loan Southampton man then threaded a ball to Williams on the right edge of the box and were it not for a heavy touch from Williams, Luongo wouldn’t have had the simple task of toe-poking into the same corner as his first goal. An inadvertent assist would be all Williams had to show for his night’s work.

Town still had time to spurn a wonderful opportunity to put Luongo through on goal for his hat-trick. The down-on-his-luck Michael Smith trying to go on his own when he would have been much better advised to leave the goal-scoring to the rampant Luongo. The final passages of the first half were spent with the Don Rogers stand baying for Bradford left back James Meredith to get his marching orders for a second bookable offence. Nathan Byrne was smart with how theatrically he went down for a couple of the fouls but how Meredith stayed on is beyond me?

Bradford brought Pantomime villain Alan Sheehan on to replace Meredith at half time – the irony being that it had been Sheehan who did receive a red card for punching Rossi-Branco in the opposite fixture back in September, also a 2-1 win for the Reds. Swindon started the second half really poorly and the vigour with which they attacked the opening period disappeared into the Wiltshire night.

Eight minutes in to the half, a tame right wing cross was intercepted by Nathan Thompson when it seemed easier for Foderingham to clean up, but Nathan took an ill-advised touch on his right instep which allowed Clarke the simple task of smashing home to reduce the deficit. After a plethora of recent self-inflicted goals conceded, this didn’t help the nervous crowd and the neat passages of possession at the back that followed received groan and moans – to the displeasure of Wes Foderingham after the game on Twitter.

Led by the right sided partnership of Luongo and Byrne, the Swindon response to the setback was strong. Massimo was cruelly denied his first career hat-trick by an outstanding one-handed save by the pre-pubescent Jordan Pickford – let’s just say that his Mum won’t be buying him a Gillette Mach 3 for Christmas! The Byrne effort required no action from the ‘keeper as he curled over from 18-yards after a jinking run that seemed never-ending.

Despite Bradford having a lot of possession and territory in the second half, Wes Foderingham was underworked and aside from a smart tip over the bar from debutant winger Burke (on loan from Notts Forest), our Wes could stand-by and trust in his young defenders. The introduction of Francois Zoko and Mark Yeates (another former Swindon player) added some more zest to the blunt Bantams but Swindon held on nicely – particularly in stoppage time when the majority of time was spent in the corner of the Don Rogers/Town End

The second half felt so pressured more because of the what was riding on the result from the home fans. Repeating myself here, but Rossi-Branco was magnificent in this spell, heading and tackling anything that came within 5-yards of him.

Bradford manager Phil Parkinson whinged post-match about Swindon players rolling round on the floor – so what? He also whined about three penalties not getting given in his side’s favour – don’t care! Bradford were awarded a penalty incorrectly at Valley Parade so it’s swings and roundabouts. The gap between the two sides in terms of football is vast and Town should have been at least four nil up at half time.

The rot has been stopped and make no mistake, Swindon stood up to the physical test late in the second half, that’s character after a run of four defeats in five games. Whether or not character alone is enough to get you over the line in a promotion race is still up for debate. In simple terms, Town need to keep producing displays like they did in the first half here and points will look after themselves.

Crewe away in front of 3,000 will be a tough proposition, as our recent trips north to Oldham and Scunthorpe pay testament. But if Swindon can compose themselves between now and May, and the supporters can take a deep breath, we might be able to start dreaming about playing in front of 20,000 plus on away trips north to Derby, Notts Forest, Sheffield Wednesday, etc.

Stay calm and give it to Luongo….!

Complete our poll which asks why are Town fans so angry..?

Follow Daniel Hunt on Twitter – @dphunt88

My Weekend: Alan Sheehan*

Alan Sheehan 1

Following Saturday’s victory at Bradford City, we catch up with Alan Sheehan who reflects on an eventful weekend*…

Friday – I’ve fond memories of playing for this weekend’s visitors Swindon Town.  They’ve had so many world-class left-backs over the years, Yinka Casal, Jason Drysdale, David Peach, plus this son of Athlone. But not Michael Rose as he’s a real c#nt for keeping me out the team when I would’ve saved them from relegation. So being part of this illustrious group, Swindon really know what to expect from me and I’ve gotta deliver – which is exactly what I did when I scored a worldy strike from what must’ve been 45-yards for County against Town in April. It’s been a busy week, nothing else but practicing free-kick after free-kick and plenty of penalties in training. Plus for that extra fitness I’ve been down the boxing club seeing that there’s always talk around here about being bantamweight.

Saturday – Parky’s up early with some important news. He’s sent a text to everyone with a plan to get us an early advantage. Apparently whoever gets closest to their ‘keeper first needs to throw themselves to the ground, then, he emphasised “position yourself to directly face the referee while sitting and then place both arms in the air”. Why you ask? I’m on penalties duty, yes… my sweet left peg never misses.

Sunday – Our entire gameplan went perfectly until their goalkeeper saved the penalty. We’d worked really hard until that point. Clarkey said after the game it wasn’t my fault as he’d planned to get their ‘keeper sent off. Bit shocked by Nathan’s reaction after the strike as we used to be teammates, plus he knows I’m sensitive. I just want to use this opportunity to clear up the ‘incident’ with that Argentinean bloke Bucking Branco. The referee Richard Clark loves his red cards, he got what he wanted when Swindon played at Notts as he got to give two reds. Yesterday he looked really bored and to be honest I felt sorry for him. I know its wrong, he’s the referee and us players shouldn’t give a f@ck about them, but the way Clark brandishes the cards like confetti really does it for me. He’s only got eyes for the red so I just had to land the body-blow.

Monday – Parky phones “well, I had to tell everyone you’d gone over and punched him, it was unacceptable and I’ll fine you the maximum amount…” I can take the fine, I’d do it again to make Clark happy. The FA will be giving me a three game ban, so I’m off to Preston for a few days, might get a trial…

*Bullshit is according to TheWashbag, not Alan Sheehan

Bradford City 1-2 Swindon Town: The return of the Obika

2014.09.18 Bradford City - Wes Save 3

Adam Tanner headed north to Bradford to watch Swindon Town’s strong start to the season continue…

Swindon approached the game looking to uphold an impressive record at Bradford City, where we were unbeaten in our four previous visits since 1998. As expected, Nathan Thompson and Jon Obika replaced Josh Lelan and Andy Williams in what turned out to be the only two changes from the team which drew with Coventry. Mark Cooper was spared a difficult decision at centre back when recently re-signed Jack Stephens was ruled out through illness. Wizened old veteran Raphael Rossi Branco, who turned 24 in July, was the team’s oldest member.

Cooper wasn’t wrong when he suggested that Bradford would start strongly, and Town were unusually lethargic throughout the opening 15 minutes. In the second minute, Nathan Thompson conceded possession cheaply in midfield, before the recovering Jordan Turnbull underhit his backpass towards Wes Foderingham. Even so Wes certainly appeared to win the ball when challenging Bradford’s Billy Clarke with his feet, so the award of a penalty looked very harsh. When Alan Sheehan stepped up our remarkable habit of conceding to former players looked set to continue, but fortunately our ‘keeper bailed us out by diving low to his left to make a typically excellent save.

Even so, Town didn’t heed the warning, and Bradford opened the scoring within minutes. Mark Yeates was given too much time and space down the left, and his cross was bundled into his own net by Louis Thompson, whose attempts at covering were in vain.

Fortunately, the goal seemed to kick Town into gear. It was surprising to see the predominantly right footed Yaser Kasim take a left footed shot from a free kick 25 yards out, but he produced a superb curling effort, which drew a strong save. Shortly afterwards, in the 23rd minute, an impressive break involving Nathan Byrne and Massimo Luongo ended with Branco’s effort being blocked. Brad Smith whipped the resulting corner to the far post, Michael Smith’s header back across goal was strong and well-directed, and Jon Obika was ideally placed to flick a header of his own into the net from two yards.

Town continued to press, and Luongo and Kasim began to shine in central midfield. Luongo had a couple of chances, drawing a decent save from one shot and putting another narrowly wide. It’s a shame that a player of his quality has only scored once since November. Swindon did take the lead in the 43rd minute. Nathan Byrne’s corner caused every bit as much panic in the Bradford defence as Smith’s 20 minutes earlier; Branco’s flicked header wasn’t cleared, and the ball fell to Obika, who smashed it into the roof of the net from 8-yards. We have badly missed a “poacher” since Nicky Ajose returned to Peterborough last December, but early signs suggest that we’ve found a new one.

The early stages of the second half were strong, as Swindon remained in control; Louis Thompson, Obika and Branco all had chances. My only criticism would be that our occasional habit of failing to test the ‘keeper reared its head. In fact we didn’t manage an attempt on target during the half.

Town’s performance fell a few notches as of the 68th minute when Michael Smith, who gave a typically tireless and capable performance, was replaced by Andy Williams, who sadly tends to play with a different mentality. Bradford suddenly had time and space to play from the back, and Town came under some heavy pressure. The defence lost some of its composure, and a string of dangerous free kicks were awarded, with Sheehan assigned to most of them. He drew an excellent save from Foderingham with one, and put another narrowly wide. Bradford also had a goal disallowed for offside after a ball into the box hadn’t been fully cleared.

Josh Lelan replaced Brad Smith for the six added minutes, and immediately conceded possession in a dangerous area. Bradford launched a break down the right which fortunately only resulted in a corner. Moments later, from a Sheehan cross, the flying save that Foderingham made to keep out Stephen Darby’s header was superb.

The final minute of stoppage time produced drama of a much more acceptable kind, when Sheehan decided, in his eternal wisdom, that if he were to punch Branco in the chest rather than the face, the officials might not notice. He was wrong, and the inevitable red card was followed seconds later by the final whistle. Full credit to our lads for showing each of the qualities required to grind out a win from, in my opinion, our most difficult match so far.

Here are my thoughts:

  1. Away Form

We have won two and drawn one of four away games to date and, crucially, have played well in each of them. Although these are early days, genuine progress appears to have been made from last season, when we averaged less than a point per game and put in a long list of poor (or worse) performances.

In view of the forthcoming run, this is just as well. Our scheduled home match against Preston on Saturday 11th October falls during an international weekend. As both sides postponed last week’s game due to call-ups, it seems unlikely to go ahead. We therefore face at least four consecutive away fixtures after next weekend’s match at home to Sheffield United; potentially five, if we win at Newport in the JPT and travel to Plymouth in the following round.

  1. Centre Backs

While there are various reasons behind our much improved away form, I believe that the current centre back personnel are high on the list. Last season’s most regular pair, Darren Ward and Grant Hall, seldom truly seemed up for the scrap required to win at somewhere like Bradford. You may have noticed that Bradford’s imposing striker James Hanson wasn’t mentioned by my report, and this is because Branco, Turnbull and Thompson, a trio who will mix the rough with the smooth, battled and fought their way through every second of the match. Last season, we were good enough to pass a fair few teams off the pitch, especially at home, but failed to challenge for promotion because we were one-dimensional, almost snobbish in our refusal to budge from “Plan A”. Not anymore.

If, as expected, Jack Stephens is soon fit to play, it will be interesting to see whether anyone makes way for him. Personally, as highly as I rate Stephens, I would allow him to wait his turn. In practice, I suspect that Branco could be the unlucky loser (possibly due, in part, to us wanting to keep Southampton onside by selecting both loanees). If so, I would urge Cooper to reconsider. In my opinion, Branco, more than anyone, offers the aerial dominance that we have tended to lack since losing Aden Flint. He also brings an attacking threat; one goal and two assists in five games shouldn’t be sniffed at. If his contract isn’t extended without delay, we risk losing an astute signing, who we have developed significantly, for nothing next summer.

  1. Attacking Set Pieces

I would be keen to know the last time we scored from two corners in a game. County Ground traditionalists will be delighted to hear that both deliveries were whipped directly into the box; in fact, I don’t think any of our eight corners were taken short. Presumably this was a conscious tactic (Bradford fans warned us in the pub beforehand that they keep conceding from set pieces), and it will be interesting to see whether it is repeated.

We’ll find out on Tuesday…

Notts County 2-0 Swindon Town: Seeing Red…

Troy Archibald-Henville Sending Off vs Notts County 2

Adam Tanner went to Meadow Lane hoping for some joy against the Magpies…

Swindon Town went into the game looking for their seventh win in eight games; and aiming to keep faint hopes of a playoff place alive into the final day. Mark Cooper made only one change to the side that beat Bradford on Monday, with Nathan Byrne replacing Miles Storey as one of the forwards in what can most easily be described as a 3-4-3 formation.

Notts County started with a high tempo, and immediately gained the upper hand. After four minutes, James Spencer headed a very decent chance wide after getting the better of the Town defence. This set the tone for the afternoon; none of our centre backs could cope with Spencer’s use of his body, and they had their most difficult afternoon for some time.

Town’s astonishing knack of conceding to former players reared its head after just nine minutes, when the unmarked Alan Sheehan collected a simple pass and hit a firm, low effort into the far corner from 18 yards. Three former Town defenders (Sheehan, Aden Flint and Sean O’Hanlon) have now scored against Swindon this season, but somehow none of our six current regular centre backs have managed a goal for us. A lack of bodies in wide areas cost us the goal, and proved a major issue all afternoon.

Town responded quickly and Pritchard curled a first time shot narrowly wide after linking up with Nathan Thompson, but sadly missing the target became the theme of Swindon’s day. Michael Smith wasted a good chance from close range around 15 minutes later, before lashing a wild volley about 20 yards over the bar. Smith gave his all as usual, but nothing went right. He badly needs a break, and some more support by August, whether from Nile Ranger or, most likely, someone else. He has had too much on his shoulders for a lad of his age and experience. Whilst I understand Cooper’s frustration with Dany N’Guessan, I would question whether freezing him out altogether has really been fair on Smith.

The second half began with standing water on parts of the pitch, after extensive watering by County at half time. Presumably this was geared towards keeping Town subdued, and, if so, it worked a treat. County had several chances to double their lead, most notably in the 50th minute, when former Swindon loanee Ronan Murray should really have scored when put one-on-one with Foderingham; our star man closed him down and made the save with his feet. Town also endured a few close shaves from various set pieces.

Swindon were little more threatening than during the first half, although our best chance of the game came in the 63rd minute, when Luongo broke free in the County area but put his shot into the side netting. With five minutes to go Pritchard broke forward and hit a firm shot straight at County keeper Bialkowski, which he held at the second attempt. This was our first and only serious attempt on target.

Then came the main event. The scuffle appeared to start with Troy Archibald-Henville pushing over Spencer in the penalty area in the build-up to a throw in, but after that point I really didn’t see anything besides a huge pile of bodies. It went on for longer than any on-field brawl that I remember seeing, and after it finally died down, and the referee had spent a couple of minutes checking with his linesmen that he hadn’t imagined it all, a total of six cards were shown; three to each side. Town were reduced to nine men, with Archibald-Henville shown a straight red, and Nathan Thompson given a second yellow.

We then had the small matter of nine added minutes to handle. Wes Foderingham ended up coming forward for a Pritchard free kick, and when that was cleared he could only watch as County effectively walked the ball into the net to seal the points.

Here are my thoughts:

Player Discipline

We have now had eight red cards this season in all competitions, and three of our players (McEveley, Archibald-Henville and Nathan Byrne) have been sent off twice. Byrne has been quite unlucky, but the others have themselves to blame. Alex Pritchard, Yaser Kasim and Nathan Thompson also receive far too many cards. As the link below shows, our record is strikingly bad.

How have we managed this when, as we all know, we have a slow, patient style of play? Cooper must take a chunk of the blame. I can’t understand managers who seem convinced that referees, as a group, have some kind of vendetta against their team; it makes no sense on any level. Sadly, Cooper falls into this bracket, and perhaps this false sense of injustice rubs off onto some of our players, who must be confident that, however badly they behave on the pitch, their manager will let them off the hook.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think the fans help in this regard either. When, for the umpteenth time, Jay McEveley gets booked for slamming the ball into the ground like a spoiled brat after a minor decision has gone against him, the last thing we should be doing is chanting his name. Equally, I refuse to give Troy Archibald-Henville a standing ovation when he has just been sent off for violent conduct. I can’t buy into the British Bulldog theory that anyone who doesn’t go steaming around like a lunatic, filled with anger and rage, isn’t really trying. Fortunately, most of our young players rise above the poor example set by their experienced colleagues.

Lee Cox

I know I’m repeating what I said in the Carlisle report, but I still cannot understand what Cox is doing in the team. I have no real issue with him; I’ve seen worse central midfielders, and he scored a nice goal against Bradford. But he simply isn’t as good a holding player as Louis Thompson, and, as the stats show, we are a much better team away from home when Thompson starts. I can’t believe that Cooper hasn’t noticed this by now. With five central midfielders under contract for next season, surely we cannot entertain thoughts of keeping Cox, a player who three different managers avoided like the plague for more than two years until late March.


With one game to play, we have averaged more than two points per game at home, which represents the third best record in the division, behind the runaway top two. Meanwhile, we have averaged less than one point per game away, and have a record no better than that of Tranmere, Colchester or Crewe. We’ve managed to lose away to each of the bottom three, as well as the likes of Notts and Gillingham, without scoring a goal. Although our blip at home to some poor sides during February and early March was frustrating, it’s hard to look beyond the away form as the reason why we have fallen short.

Although Saturday was ultimately a bridge too far, an excellent run of form leading up to it had kept the season interesting for a few weeks longer than we had expected. We can now focus on giving Rotherham’s charming manager his usual warm reception, followed, more importantly, by giving the players and management the credit they deserve for a very decent nine months’ work.

Follow Adam Tanner on Twitter @adamtanner87

Swindon Town 0 Notts County 0: All Shook Up…

The King... 2

A goalless draw with Notts County ensured Swindon Town have gone five games as hosts without a win. Here’s Bitter Gillespie’s account of the game…

1957 was the year Elvis Pressley declared he was “All Shook Up,” a song that stayed for weeks at number one.  Equally it’s 1957, now that due diligence has taken place that Swindon Town’s debts  reign from.  It’s unfathomable how 57 years and two administrations later, no-one else has found this £30,000 misdemeanour before?  Yet 1957 is the year that haunts the club, the year Sam Burton, Walter Bingley, and Arnold Darcy graced the Town shirt.

It’s 1957 and still there is another 3 years before Kevin Duncan MacDonald even manages to take his first breath; alas Swindon Town never ceases to take your breathe away. Furthermore, Di Canio himself (who complained tirelessly about the embargo) holding his former employers to ransom it seems, along with the supporters he held so dear to his bosom beating heart.

“Well, please don’t ask me what’sa on my mind.  I’m a little mixed up, but I’m feelin’ fine,” Elvis declared.

The King would only have been 78 had he not been fated by barbiturates. It’s then I realise I have sat staring into the turf of the County Ground, far from the madding crowd and the 22 players, referee and two assistants that I am supposed to be focussing on.  I shudder to think what I have missed in terms of football.  I glance up nervously at the scoreboard, it’s 0-0.  That’s a relief nothing missed then?

My focus sets sharply on the football when I notice the opposition are waltzing around in pink.  Furthermore Swindon have seemingly come out of transfer embargo and signed a new player; anchoring the play effortlessly; the new loanee from Syco TV Dermot O’ Leary.  Kevin MacDonald had clearly earmarked O’Leary’s contribution to anchoring live TV, that he made him the new focus of all of Swindon’s best passing moves.  There was no more Ward or Flint’s raking boots up through the channels as directed by Paolo Di Canio, but everything went through O’Leary the trusted anchorman of this show at hand.

Dermot O'Leary

O’Leary – Midfield Anchorman

With O’Leary’s role clearly working, the likes of McCormack and Roberts looked confident and revitalised.  Time after time McCormack bulldozed, nut-megged, and wandered his way down the left flank as if no pink opposition existed.  Buoyed by these effortless attacks Roberts was equal to McCormack’s forays and joined in the fun.  The first thirty minutes had set the platform for Swindon to claim all three points, as there was nothing on show from the men in pink that Swindon had to worry about.

That was until the 30th minute when McCormack brought down Bishop needlessly to offer Notts County a free kick in a good position.  Up stepped Alan Sheehan and all too often in recent times  we have seen ex-Town players claim goals that ultimately take the three points away from the County Ground.  However what happened next only justified my belief that this game was Swindon’s for the taking.  Sheehan sliced his effort 40 yards wide of the goal, the County Ground smiled, and Sheehan raised a blush with more rose pink than his shirt.

The King...

The King…

It’s then I noticed Alan’s hair was jet black, it was never that dark when Danny was in charge, it was possibly an even darker tint than Gary Roberts. It’s then 1957 began haunting me again, as I hallucinate Roberts and Sheehan on each wing in Elvis white suits singing,

“What’s wrong with me? I’m itching like a man on a fuzzy tree. My friends say I’m actin wild as a bug. I’m in love. I’m all shook up. Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!”

It’s an image I couldn’t shake for the rest of the half.  Miller did try his hardest to shift this image by sending a solid and straight drive from a free kick in the 36th minute with Bialkowski palming it away with Leacock subsequently clearing.

However we’d see if any half time talks could stir a goal out of either side, but MacDonald’s talk would have been, “more of the same, and goals will come.”  Conversely Kiwomya would have asked if any of his pink battalion had turned up at all.  The spine of their pink team was spineless with a nervous Leacock, an ineffective Bishop (there’s been a few of those in our time), and Showunmi having a game he’d rather forget.  Equally Greg (Troy) Tempest the young trainee on the left wing with curly wig for disguise was having a mare.  Had I been Kiwomya I would have put him out of his misery and taken him off.  Tempest obviously had Marina on his mind, cue Elvis, “Maybe I didn’t treat you quite as good as I should have. Maybe I didn’t love you quite as often as I could have. Little things I should have said and done I just never took the time. You were always on my mind.”

It wasn’t until the 58th minute that Kiwomya did the kindest thing and replaced Tempest with Arquin.

In the 72nd minute my hallucinations truly took a hold, when the laboured Showunmi disappeared to the dugout only for the release of the most comical cameos I have ever seen at the County Ground; enter Bencherif.  While the Easterly wind was bitter, from another direction came Bencherif on his Mistral wind, dismounted his camel, tethered with Thomas Edward Lawrence, and entered the show.  In short, I have never seen a more obscure looking ‘athlete’ (please see Algerian Hammer thrower Hakim Toumi) who seemed to have left his compass with T.E. Lawrence as he ran in opposite directions to where a compos mentis footballer would ordinarily run.

The second half was more of the same, with Town dominating but even with O’Leary orchestrating, there was no X-Factor where it mattered.  I would have personally taken off Williams, as it was clearly not his day.  His frustration showed, as he tried to perform miracles rather than play the simple ball.  Ferry forced a brilliant save from Bialkowski with a header from 10 yards and Louis Thompson entred the scene for the wounded Miller had a good shot deflected for a corner in the 58th minute.

The trouble is without scoring even a Sunday League team can muster at least one chance in 90 minutes, hence Ward made a fantastic block to deny Bishop. Then on 69 minutes Foderingham made his obligatory amazing save per game to deny Judge.

On 76 mintues Rooney headed against the post and Collins took an age to react and get any kind of shot away from the rebound, with Sheehan blocking his effort.  The 81st minute saw Bialkowski make another superb save, this time with his foot that just minutes before was apparently falling off, and Ferry’s follow up was snuffed out.  The 88th minute Bialkowski makes another save with his legs to thwart Collins, and from the corner Bialkowski blocked Ward’s header from 5 yards.  You get the picture? Tomaszewski 40 years later!

So the game was going to be another Swindon performance without producing the cutting edge with home advantage.  Even so I have to refer back again to Bencherif and how he bundled over the diminutive Louis Thompson, not out of malice but by simply running the opposite way to what his thougths were telling him.  It appeared this oversized ‘action man’ had been pulled apart and put back together by the evil Sid Phillips, and his dog Scud.

If Swindon manage to keep O’Leary fit for the rest of the season and somehow escape the wrath of 1957 and Di Canio and lift this embargo, Swindon could find themselves in the top two automatic positions.  Without adding to this squad as injuries and suspension threaten, seven games may be too much to ask of this team, even with their obvious strength of character.  This was not a dull 0-0 this was an entertaining affair, and with the genius of signing O’Leary why would it be any different.

The last press conference words Elvis ever uttered was, “I hope I didn’t bore you.”  Something that neither Elvis or Swindon Town could ever be accused of.  So roll on Oldham, this is going to be an exciting end of season.

Notts County 1 Swindon Town 0: An increasingly familiar scoreline…

Meadow Lane Nottingham 2

A fine individual goal by Alan Judge was enough to hand Notts County a rare home victory and send Swindon’s beleaguered players and fans into an enforced two week break on a low, writes Daniel Hunt.

For the second time in an utterly frustrating week, Swindon found themselves cursing poor finishing, good opposition goalkeeping and an increasingly familiar 0-1 scoreline. This was the eighth blank Town have fired in 26 fixtures this season and the fourth failure to score in November alone. Perhaps more worrying is the inability of Di Canio’s men to respond positively to going a goal down this season, see below:

Venue Opposition Competition Final Score
Away Preston North End League One 1-4 L
Away Oxford United Johnstone’s Paint Trophy 0-1 L
Home Leyton Orient League One 0-1 L
Away Carlisle United League One 2-2 D
Home Colchester United League One 0-1 L
Home Coventry City League One 2-2 D
Home Aston Villa Capital One Cup 2-3 L
Home Macclesfield Town FA Cup 0-2 L
Home Brentford League One 0-1 L
Away Notts County League One 0-1 L

Above – Games where STFC have conceded first and result in 2012/13

As it was at the County Ground on Tuesday, the issue at Meadow Lane was not creating chances, it was taking them. If Swindon Town can acquire a genuine poacher in January, then I’ve got every faith that we could be celebrating consecutive promotions. I’m also adamant that Sam Parkin (2003/2004 vintage) would have scored 15 goals already amongst this same Town side.

Club captain Alan McCormack returned to the starting line up at right-back in place of Nathan Thompson, who paid a heavy price for his goal costing mistake against the Bees. New loan arrivals, Danny Hollands and Chris Martin, had to settle for places on the bench alongside the now suspension free Aden Flint. It was no surprise that Bostock took his place alongside Simon Ferry in the centre of midfield but Di Canio sprung a surprise by including Andy Williams, previously thought to be injured, from the start. The fourth change saw De Vita replace Gary Roberts at left midfield.

Three of the changes backfired however, as those promoted to the side (excluding De Vita) endured miserable afternoons in different ways. McCormack put in a frenetic performance highlighted by the fact that the majority of the Magpies’ early chances came down Macca’s side of the pitch. His afternoon was summarised by a petulant booking for a reckless foul late in the second half. Bostock found himself in trouble with the referee too and his substitution at the break was no surprise to those present because he was clearly on very thin ice with the officials. In the Tottenham loanee’s defence, he made a good impact on the game and the offence he got booked for in the 11th minute was very harsh.

This brings me finally on to Andy Williams. The likeable forward had a stinker quite frankly and it raised the question of whether he was fully fit? Aside from a low effort that was tipped wide by Bialkowski after 20 minutes, the former Yeovil man’s display was riddled with indecision. Almost immediately after Judge had given County a 1-0 lead, a long pass from McCormack put Williams in behind the opposition defence. What followed was neither a shot on goal nor an effective cross for his partner James Collins and the chance to equalise immediately was gone.

The first half was a good watch for the neutral as play swung from end to end on a truly wet and miserable day in Nottingham. Notts County definitely shaded the early stages though as Wes Foderingham had to earn his money in the Swindon goal. As early as the 2nd minute, Alan Judge fired a warning shot, cutting in from the left and shooting straight at Foderingham. Five minutes later, Neal Bishop nearly took advantage of good work down the left by Francois Zoko but his fierce effort was blocked by the rear of a fellow Notts County player. Following Bostock’s booking in the 11th minute, former Town man Alan Sheehan had his curling free kick palmed over by the Robins’ keeper.

The closest Swindon came to scoring in the opening exchanges was a James Collins toe-poke at a De Vita centre that drifted harmlessly wide with five minutes on the clock. Ex Bristol Rovers winger Jeff Hughes has impressed against Swindon before and he can consider himself very unlucky not to have put County in the lead with efforts in the 15th and 19th minutes. The first was a well struck shot from a left wing cut back which, luckily for Town, deflected into Foderingham’s hands. The second was a glancing near post header which went narrowly wide of the back post from a corner on the right. A combination of Foderingham and Devera had defended resolutely to block Bishop’s close range strike which led to the corner Hughes missed from. Di Canio’s men were on the rack and lucky to be level.

Backed by 815 reds, the Swindon response was a strong one. So much so that when Notts County eventually took the lead in the 28th minute, it was actually against the run of play. I’ve already mentioned Williams bringing a good save out of Bialkowski after 20 minutes and this was followed by the Polish keeper brilliantly diverting James Collins’ right foot effort onto the post two minutes later. The resulting corner was taken short and when it was crossed in, Joe Devera could only head onto the roof of the net.

The winning goal was remarkably simple in its creation and despite Judge striking the ball beautifully into the corner, Darren Ward will feel that he should have closed the ball down better. A long ball forward by Sheehan had been flicked on to Judge by debutant Chris Iwelumo, a man I best remember for having a terrible two games against Town for Brighton in the 2003/2004 Play-offs. The Scottish International was an awkward customer and will prove to be a shrewd piece of loan deadline day business by County manager Keith Curle I’m sure. How frustrating then that Swindon were scuppered in a last minute deal to bring giant centre forward Gary Madine to SN1.

I appreciate that I’ve had a moan about our strikers in this report but the current number 9 James Collins can hold his head high after a good showing at Meadow Lane. He thought he’d equalised just after the half hour mark with a clever back header from 6 yards out, only to be ruled out by the Linesman’s flag. I’ve since seen the incident again and unfortunately it’s impossible to tell if he was offside or not from the footage. What angered the majority of Town fans was how late the flag went up – the first thing I check when a goal goes in is the linesman and upon seeing he wasn’t flagging, the celebrations began. Two seconds later and we’re being ridiculed by the home support, gutting.

The second half brought fresh hope and after Wes Foderingham had brilliantly denied the aforementioned Iwelumo with a fantastic reflex save in the 51st minute, Town carved out two golden chances to level. Chris Martin, on for Collins, slipped the ball to Matt Ritchie on the edge of the box and after swivelling his marker, Ritchie could only strike tamely at Bialkowski who parried the ball to safety. If that was a regulation save, then the save to deny Darren Ward his second Swindon goal in the 63rd minute was anything but. Ritchie was involved once again, swinging in the corner aimed at Chris Martin. In the scramble, Ward bravely headed towards goal only to be denied by the flying Bialkowski – great save.

Disappointingly, the Swindon charge somewhat ended with that chance until the final five minutes of normal time. It was staggering how an entire 20-25 minute period could pass with so little incident. It was indicative of how well Notts County were managing their lead but also of Swindon’s problem when chasing a game. The play became long and desperate, suddenly the normally reliable McCormack was hoofing long balls straight out for goal kicks. What had been forgotten were the virtues of creating chances by playing patient football, like in the first half and at the start of the second.

The flurry of chances did come but Ritchie had two long range efforts, one a free kick, saved down low by Bialkowski and McEveley’s cross come shot was tipped over by the excellent goalkeeper. I guess I’d best summarise the second half showing as naive. This was best depicted by a ridiculous foul throw (by his own corner flag) from Matt Ritchie with two minutes of normal time left. It gave away possession in an awful part of the pitch and the Magpies went on to waste at least two minutes down in that corner.

Notts County, and Brentford before them, are functional, well organised teams who’ll finish in the top ten at least from what I’ve seen. Town have to start doing themselves some favours though, to arrest this ‘blip’ and turn a good season into a very good one. Di Canio’s assembled an expensive squad and looking towards this two week break, it’s high time for the manager to pass on his own goalscoring pearls of wisdom to the strikers already at the club.

With chances for rest and recuperation rare in an otherwise hectic League One schedule, the onus is now on Paolo to galvanise his troops and comeback stronger when they step out against Doncaster Rovers on December 8th. Two weeks is a long time without football…

Follow Daniel Hunt on Twitter – @dphunt88

A Season in Stats: Part 4 – A case for the defence…or not…

Given the delay in the new Swindon manager announcement you can feast your eyes on some more statistics I’ve gathered over the course of the season.

This time I’ll be having a look at the defensive phase of play and the contribution of all players with a defensive role, in particular, these stats reveal how many goals have been conceded whilst each player has been on the pitch, how many per game played and the frequency arising from total minutes per player.

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