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:
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.
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