At Home with the Bodins: Does Billy Bodin still wear dresses?

Billy Bodin 2

In our first dip into the weird and wonderful world of the Swindon Town Matchday Programme, this article from August 1994 raises a few questions about former Town player Billy Bodin and does he still wear dresses? Aww isn’t the two-year old Bodin cute…

At Home with the Bodins

Click image to open

Swindon 1 Torquay 0: Capital One Cup First Round

Plainmoor-Stadium-Torquay 3

After Saturday’s defeat to Peterborough on the opening day of the League 1 season, all eyes turned back to the County Ground for what was the first competitive home game of the new season. New TheWashbag writer Dan Brown picks through the game, where Andy Williams’ goal was the difference in a hard fought encounter…

There is something different about cup football. The atmosphere in any given stadium during a cup tie is just that little bit more on edge, everyone knowing that just one mistake could blow the chances of cup glory for another whole agonising year. Not least when it is the first round, against lower league opposition – and with a squad with a lot to prove.

After cup runs in the last 2 seasons, the hunger for more cup success is evident amongst supporters (not least in the Don Rogers stand), which meant that Torquay were ideal opponents for the opening round tie in this seasons league cup, on paper at least.

There were yet more encouraging signs for Mark Cooper’s fledgling squad, and the overall performance, although not yet looking like the finished article looked like the better team throughout.

The starting XI for town comprised of most new recruits, with only Foderingham, Ward, Thompson and Williams having any experience of playing in a cup competition for Swindon before. That being said, Swindon’s young side never looked out of their depth, with Ryan Mason and Alex Pritchard looking especially at home in town colours.  Tijane Reis occupied the right flank, with Pritchard starting on the left. As he did at the weekend, Andy Williams was the lone man up front. The only other out and out striker town could call upon was Miles Storey, who was on the bench.

Town came out of the blocks quickest, with a smooth passing game being established from the outset. The ball was being kept down, with aesthetically pleasing football being played by the reds in the opening 25 minutes. Some early-season sloppiness was evident in some of the touches, but reassuringly the Tottenham contingent especially looked very settled in possession.

Pritchard looked lively and went the closest for the reds in the first half with a number of close efforts, but it was Jordan Chapell who went even closer for the visitors stinging the palms of Foderingham with a low shot and, former Robin, Billy Bodin whipping a cross into the Swindon box which Foderingham claimed excellently.

Notable in the first half in particular though was the contrasting playing styles of the two sides. Torquay, in a style commonly attributed to that of League 2, were quite happy to pump forward the long ball, whereas Swindon were much happier to pass the ball up the pitch. This is far more encouraging and inventive than last season, and it has to be said that the squad looked to be more than up to the task, despite a period where the game became flat. Swindon looked a lot calmer than they did at times last season. Yaser Kasim was a shining example of this. He got better as the game went on, keeping a cool head and playing some visionary through balls.

At half time, Mark Cooper opted for a double change, with Massimo Luongo coming on for Ryan Mason and Miles Storey coming on for the largely ineffective Reis on the right. Mason had been clutching his left quad as the first 45 drew to a close, prompting the change. Storey, as he is getting a reputation for doing, made a nearly immediate impact, a snap-shot fizzing goal-ward was turned away by an alert Martin Rice in the Yellows’ goal. By this point the pressure was really building, and it felt like anything but a first Town goal of the campaign would be unjust.

Minutes later, Pritchard had his best scoring chance of the night. Picking up the ball from the left, a dinking run led him into the box where he was felled, and referee Andy D’Urso immediately pointed to the spot. Pritchard dusted himself down and took the spot kick himself, but his rather tame effort was easily saved.

Desperate to make amends, soon after he found himself within shooting range, and unleashed a fierce effort that Rice could only parry into the path of Williams, who with the entire goal to aim at saw his effort bundled off the line (much to the dismay of the fans at the far end of the Don Rogers).

The game then experienced a lengthy pause as Torquay replacement (and former Robin) Elliot Benyon was involved in a totally innocuous challenge with Thompson, meaning that sadly Benyon’s night was abruptly ended and he was stretchered off after lengthy treatment. This galvanised the Yellows, allowing them back in the game.

Just as it looked like the game would go on another half an hour, Town struck the killer blow. Storey raced through on the left, and after drawing the keeper out he had the presence of mind to square the ball into the path of the oncoming Williams, who duly tapped the ball home. From that moment on, the tie looked to be in the hands of the reds, who even threw on Alex Smith at the end to see out the game. That they did, and it’s the second round of the league cup again for the Robins.

All In all it was a pleasing performance, and one that when looked at alongside the Peterborough game last weekend looks very positive. Its seems like Cooper, however long he is in charge, will look to instil this calm and collected way of playing, and I for one am a fan. It may work better due the fact that the majority of the team have been coached in a premier league environment, but while that is the case, I along with many other Swindon fans am happy.

The one area which definitely needs sorting is up front. We lack depth and it is clear to see. Playing with a lone striker can work, but against Torquay Williams was getting dragged out to the left far too often leaving no one far enough forward in the middle. There are goals in the team, with Pritchard especially looking like he can chip in with a few, however we can’t rely on just goals from the midfield in this league. Maybe it’s a Tottenham thing.

My man of the match would either be Pritchard or Kasim. Pritchard played well up until the penalty, but then lost his way in trying to make amends. Kasim looked like a calming influence as the game went on, an heir of Dimitar Berbatov about him. Albeit a less lazy one.

In all the side looked good for the most part. Like I said at the start, a cup tie has a certain edge to it, and I’m sure that we have the potential for many more nights like it this season. It will galvanise and give confidence for the league too. Let’s just hope for no penalties given our record of late…

Five versus seven substitutes

Subs Board

After the Football League announced they would revert to seven substitutions for the 2012/13 campaign, Christopher Panks asks how this could affect Di Canio’s approach…

Much is spoken of how substitutions have won or lost games for managers. Many have pointed to Harry Redknapp’s tactical decisions which saw his team surrender a 2-0 lead away to bitter rivals Arsenal, eventually conceding five without scoring another, as the reason that Roy Hodgson beat Redknapp to become England manager. Of course, the reality is that other circumstances were present – not least Hodgson’s willingness to play a part in overhauling the English grass roots game at St. George’s park. Still the ability to change a game with substitutions and other tactical decisions remain a key success factor for managers; and one of the few ways they can affect the game, once the players have crossed the white line.

On Friday 1 June, at the Football League AGM, the Chairmen of the 72 clubs voted in favour of Derby County and Birmingham City’s proposal to revert back to a population of seven substitutes on each bench for the coming season. This reversed the decision to reduce the number of named subs to five that was carried at the last AGM only 12 months ago.

The arguments for and against a seven seater bench vary depending on the club. There’s clearly a huge difference between the top of the Championship and the hungry trap door out of the League which, this season, claimed Macclesfield and Hereford. A gap that is increasing all the time.

Generally, more substitutes favours affluent clubs. Affluence is not limited to finances – youth recruitment and development and depth of squad, both in terms of quantity and quality, will tip the balance. When the match day squad size was reduced, the idea was to minimise the financial burden for cash strapped clubs who, last season, saved money by reducing the numbers of seats on the coach, beds and portions of food required for away games. The effect was a change in a fundamental bench, a goalkeeper was riskily often sacrificed and for large squads like Swindon’s it meant players, particularly youngsters, who would have ordinarily sat in seat six or seven, were loaned to divisional rivals.

For 2012/13 Swindon’s squad size will need to increase, possibly by borrowing talented youngsters and experienced but unneeded loanees who will be at an even higher premium. It is no secret that the best youth development in Britain exists within Premier League clubs, but owing to two extra seats on the bench, Championship clubs will have first refusal on these loan deals, as coaching is at a higher level and Premier League clubs only let these players out in order to progress their development.

The result may be that Championship clubs are more willing to loan players out to lower divisions as better players displace them from the Premier League reserve teams. However, what is more likely is that with the increased level of seats to fill is that, fearing sporadic injuries and suspensions teams in the Championship will be far less amenable to letting personnel drop a league.

It will probably mean that fewer players will be allowed to leave on loan than last season. Then, Bodin was allowed to go to two successful clubs – Torquay United and Crewe Alexandra in League Two – to develop and Medhi Kerouche’s disagreement with the manager ended with the ultimate punishment of donning the dreadful yellow and blue of our rivals up the A420.

Had seven substitutes been available throughout 2011/12 it would have meant that players that Paolo clearly sees the potential of, like Billy Bodin and Nathan Thompson, might have had a better opportunity to force their way into contention rather than sending Bodin out for first team spells elsewhere. However, the extra bench seats to fill, would doubtless have resulted in a reluctance by Barnsley to lend players like Jay McEveley and increased competition for Premier League players like John Bostock, both who look set to join permanently after their loan visits.

It’s difficult to tell which option would have been best for Town at the moment. What is clear, though, is that the squad will need to grow, either through loans or with permanent signings, but loans will face more competition and transfer fees will be inflated. The decision to revert to seven subs is probably in Swindon’s favour, but further signings will be required to this end and this all costs money. The positive aspect is represented by the morale the youth will feel being part of a match day squad, travelling with the senior players and understanding what is required of a budding professional.

Ultimately, it will mean fewer youth players are released on loan. Based on the acquisitions already arranged, the manager knows the areas he needs to strengthen but, it will be difficult for him to find players to increase the quality of the team. Young players will be held by Swindon, named on the bench and possibly introduced to play, much more freely than last season.

End of season player ratings – Part 2

Score 2

Neil Evans is to give his perspective on everyone who put on a Red shirt in our amazing record-breaking season, part two.. 

18. Mark Scott. The young goalkeeper didn’t really feature and has been released by PDC..we wish him well 5 out of 10

19. Luke Rooney: Is it just me, or were we all expecting a lot more from Luke? if you compare his impact to say Lee Holmes it doesn’t really compare. I guess now isn’t really the time to judge him…lets see him after a PDC pre-season..and then decide if he is the real deal 6.5 out of 10

21. Lander Gabillondo: I have, I confess, something of a soft spot for the Spaniard. However his performances haven’t justified a new deal sadly though he set up the winner at Ashton Gate which alone gives him a 5.5 out of 10.

22. Lee Holmes: We simply have to buy this player from Saints…knows our club and on the evidence I saw, loves being here. He couldn’t get away from the Kassam quick enough! Great dribbler, a real edge of the seat player..crossing is better than Rooney’s too. I am a fan 8.5 out of 10

23. Raffaele De Vita: A real conundrum of a player. The best first touch at the club but must work much harder on the next ball after that…God-like status because of his goal at City..”who put the ball in City’s net….etc”. He can deliver, but next season will be make or break for Raffa…a Len Goodman style SEVEN!

24. Jonathan Smith: A bargain from York City..warrior and artisan in midfield…never shirks a challenge and compliments Ferry’s more creative tendencies. Another with a blistering shot and yes I do think he is better than Risser 7.5 out of 10

25. Jonathan Tehoue: His accusations (long after being discarded are a disgrace)…as a footballer he might have been OK…but bad attitudes we don’t need..
3 out of 10

26. Phil Smith: Loyal servant who’s penalty saves v’s AFC paved the way for JPT success…I’m sure everyone wishes Smithy well for the future…Made more mistakes this year than before but a sentimental 7 out of 10

27. Alessandro Cibbochi: I increasingly warmed to the combative Italian and though he was first class against Leicester away and benefitted from a run in the side…then he disappeared again…confusing but worthy of a solid 7 out of 10

28. Miles Storey: Barely featured so a default 5 is the best I can offer

30. Leigh Bedwell: Seemed to do well when with the squad and out on loan…so a mark of 5.5 out of 10

31. Billy Bodin: The dynasty continues with the offer of a new deal. Richly deserved for a player sent out, mystifyingly on loan the second time, after playing his best game for the Town. I rate Billy and the fact he has wanted first team footie shows commitment and desire…8 out of 10

32. Chris Smith: I missed his game so another default mark of 5 out of 10

34. Ronan Murray: Frustrating player to watch much of the time. Pacey and can clearly finish but never seemed to run where Benno flicked the ball or where midfielders passed it. The worrying thing is he didn’t seem to learn and often lost heart during a game. 6 out of 10

35. Wesley Foderingham: A tremendous acquisition at the right time. Thanks to his defence, Wes often had little to do. When he was called upon he was flawless. A class act in the making….9 out of 10

37. Louis Thompson: Another default mark of 5 for the youngster

39. Medhi Kerrouche: I know it is highly unlikely he will stay but I like the way he plays…and his goals to game’s ratio for us was very good. But I don’t manage the team and saw how PDC mercilessly hauled him off at Colchester in the cup for goodness knows what…7 out of 10

The Rest

Liam Ridelhagh: Solid enough performer and make a good contribution to our backline. Did OK 6.5 out of 10

Jake Jervis: Like the song..I wish he could have stayed just a little bit longer…best goals to game ratio and kickstarted our memorable JPT run at Exeter…8 out of 10

Lukas Magera: Struggled with the English game…but I’m not gonna give up on the giant Czech just yet. A good pre-season may see some useful returns in FL1 6 out of 10

Leon Clarke: So Leon how’s your career then?..Not so good? Shame, you had the talent but not the team-ethic or discipline…ability? Absolutely? Still a winners medal…it’s your loss mate…3 out of 10

Cristian Montano: West ham youngster who simply didn’t cut it..a waste of a loan 3.5 out of 10

Ahmed Abdullah: Never got a look in and has since been released…default mark applies.

Daniel Boateng: A huge disappointment. Big central defender who was knocked about far too easily…as anyone at Hereford can testify…I suspect he won’t have a huge future at A.senal, his parent club. 4 out of 10

Michael Timlin: One game at the season’s start and then an excellent campaign with Luggy at Southend…For services rendered 6 out of 10

Nathan Thompson: New deal offered so evidently rated..rightly so from what I’ve seen 5.5 out of 10

Catching up on the ‘Retained List’, Caddis, McCormick and the rest…

Lyme Regis and Amelie's first visit to the the beach 1

You may have noticed we’ve been a bit quiet responding to the latest Swindon Town news recently, Ron Smith has been on holiday…

A week without the mod-cons in rural Dorset, in an isolated place where the only signal known to locals is morse, has undoubtedly been the relaxing break that me and the young family sorely needed.

The only thing ‘football’ about the week was finding out our nearby market town of Bridport was where the goal nets of the ’66 World Cup Final were made.

Having returned to civilisation – although many outside Swindon would dispute that – the unexpectedly busy flow of post-season news while I was away yielded several key nuggets. So I might have well have my say a little later than usual…

Lyme Regis and Amelie’s first visit to the beach

First we had the ‘Retained List’. This was presented almost as if football had returned to the feudal hierarchy days of retain-and-transfer pre-1963. Although today there’s no certainty you can keep those you want to retain.

Town announced they sought to retain the services of two out of contract players – Billy Bodin and Nathan Thompson – and have shown the door to Phil Smith, Mark Scott, Callum Kennedy and Lander Gabilondo.

Smith surely has more sense than to stay around and warm Foderingham’s gloves. Instead Phil deserves to find the first team action elsewhere at this late stage in his career. Fellow ‘keeper Mark Scott departs having never been allowed to prove himself, save for superb performances for Supermarine 18 months ago in their FA Cup run. Long serving left back Kennedy departs, which is fine by me considering that he blocked me on Twitter several months ago for no apparent reason. Gabilondo leaves – as expected – proving he’s another of Paolo’s failed foreign imports, although one who fortunately joined on a single year deal.

I’d be surprised if either Thompson or Bodin refuse to sign new deals given their rise through the youth ranks. However Bodin’s stock has risen in recent months after excellent loan spells with Torquay and Crewe, leading to a turned-down full international call up. So unless he knows guaranteed first team action awaits at SN1 they’ll be suitors waiting to pounce.

Next up we had the club taking out their option to extend Paul Caddis’ deal until June 2014. The qualifications for this decision are obvious, however as it was likely Simon Ferry joined on similar terms in the summer of 2010, the lack of a similar extension highlights Ferry remains yet to convince his third manager that his long term future is worth securing.

True to form more controversy follows Town around every corner. Midweek news emerged that convicted drink drive killer ‘keeper Luke McCormick has long been training with Town on day release and is set to join on trial in July. Cue the typical posturing from some supporters, treating football as a special case and all too quick to write off anyone with a criminal conviction from earning a living again. Its simple, I don’t like the situation anymore than you, however he’s been convicted, been through the justice system and served his time so move on – even how heinous the crime, and what a horrendous tragedy he was responsible for. What next, should we call for any Town fan with a criminal conviction to be banned from entering the ground..?

Paolo Di Canio has finally returned Alex Cooke’s copy of Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson. Not content with plans ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ or ‘D’ for 2012/13, the Italian has vowed to add to the alphabet to provide sufficient options to tackle the many Guardiolas, Bielsas and Sacchis in opposition dugouts next season. Also I must take this opportunity to apologise for us exposing Town’s only tactic as the season progressed, leaving Di Canio with no choice but to seek alternatives. At least Alex will have plenty to get his teeth into…

Could our first signing be Yeovil striker Andy Williams? After scoring enough to secure the Glovers’ League One status he’s going to depart ‘Bosman style’. Like many Town fans I’ve also not be paying enough attention to League One highlights reel on the woeful Football League Show so, for now, I’ll also fit into the “never heard of him so he’s probably crap” category.

Oh wait! Yet another flop is on his way. Etienne Esajas departs to free up much needed wages for Di Canio’s expected summer signing spree. If only Mattia Lanzano would follow suit and learn the phrase ‘mutual consent’…

This summer promises to be as busy, if not busier, than the last. That’ll keep me occupied…

Benson’s search for a striking partner

Paul Benson 3

Swindon Town are top of League Two and normally that comes down to a solid frontline banging in the goals, such as our partnerships of Mooney and Parkin, Allison and Finney etc. This season, the frontline has chopped and changed but still to some success, Adam Johnson looks at the situation.

Paul Benson. 32, 6ft tall, 11st, looking for a partner to have fun and score…goals with. It’s a simple love advert at the back of The Swindon Advertiser but even after nearly four months, the search goes on.

The former Charlton striker has done nothing wrong in a Town shirt, except being unable to keep a partner. The cries from the Town End and Swindon faithful have been pointing to Alan Connell in recent weeks but, who has really been the most effective as a partnership this season?

After looking through every fixture, noting down every partnership and every goal scored by a striker in which partnership, there is one thing I can safely say. We’ve had lots of different combinations, 27 by my count – See the table below

27 different pairings in 50 games, normally with figures like that you’d be thinking about a side struggling to score goals and at the wrong end of the table. We all know this isn’t the case and actually many of the combinations have good appearance to goal ratios.

11 strikers have seen their chances come and go and it’s not that most of them have only had sub appearances. Di Canio either hasn’t known his preference of player or his preferences didn’t work out. I’d assume it was the latter…

Connell’s longest run in the team for example is four games, and he scored one goal. Murray had a run of four games starting, and scored none. Bodin started three and scored 1 which is fine but none of them when alongside Benson have shown a constant threat in front of goal.

Di Canio has tried all the combo’s, everyone has had their chance. Luckily for Town, these players have come on for one another and grabbed a goal but no one except Benson seems able to take advantage of their starting place.

If we go back to the start of the season it was a similar tale. This is where many of the different pairings were formed, when we were being too inconsistent to mount a title challenge. Oh how times have changed!

Anyway, I’d say that 22 out of the 27 duos were formed before Christmas and during that time, everything was tried. Magera was given four starts, no goals. Clarke 4 starts, no goals. De Vita 4 starts, no goals. Jake Jervis and Kerrouche were the only success stories early in the season but there is still a pattern with them.

Both had good starts, scoring goals in as many appearances but towards the end of their stay, they had a few quiet games and were dropped. Kerrouche was dropped more for his attitude but Jervis started well and ended with 4 goals in 10 starts.

All of these figures may come across as over thinking but there is one common theme in all of this before Christmas: ‘‘If you don’t take your chance, you’re not going to play.’’

Paolo has given each striker a run of a least 3 games to prove themselves, that’s 270 minutes of football. Over this period, it’s fair to say you’ll know each striker’s strengths, weaknesses and scoring potential. The problem was even if Kerrouche was good, Jervis was good, Connell was good, none of them were scoring goals regularly and could be counted upon.

This is where Paul Benson fits the bill perfectly and it’s to no surprise that this man has started every game since his two sub appearances when he first joined as he sought to gain match fitness. He can be relied upon in a game to pop up when needed with a goal. He doesn’t do it every game, but he has in the majority rather than the minority.

So, this is where we can reveal the best pairing of the season so far, wait for it Town fans before the majority jump up for joy, is Benson and Connell. That may not come as much of a surprise but they lead with 11 appearances together and eight goals.

However, it has to be stated, that whatever partnership Benson is in the stats are good. With Ronan Murray they’ve got four goals in 10 appearances and with Billy Bodin; it’s even more impressive, with six in seven appearances.

In the table we see that Jervis and Montano scored 2 goals in three games together, Jervis and Connell got three in three, and Jervis and Magera got 2 in 3 games but the common theme was Jervis, not the other partner as well, which we’ve already eluded too.

So, what is it Paolo is looking for? He has his perfect striker Benson at the moment, on the pitch, working hard, scoring goals. But look and think about the likes of Benson, Connell and Jervis, when I think of these three, I think of target men.

Benson is good in the six yard box but he is effective at holding play up, same as Connell and similar to Jervis. What is also interesting about these three is that they’re actually three of our top four strikers.

Benson is the least like a target man but he definitely isn’t the quick play off your partner striker. Swindon has struggled for that other one to really rely on for getting on the end of long balls, or to beat opposing defenders. Look at the JPT final for example.

However, it’s Connell and Benson who have brought about the most success in front of goal. Both players are good in the air and both are strong forwards who can get about.

When Connell starts alongside Benson, the latter gets a new role of being on that last shoulder, and unselfishly by Connell I feel, it brings about chances for his partner. Connell is a workhorse and I’ll always admire that in a footballer. It these types of players you want to do well. He may not have the best conversion rate in the team but he helps the team, rather than the individual.

If you read Alex Cooke’s blog last week, looking at our choice of formations, I’d agree by saying that starting with just Benson upfront could solve problems (if you can call being top of the league by four points a problem).

You wouldn’t have another striker to worry about, and with the signing of John Bostock, it could be that Paolo had taken advice from that blog – perhaps not but you never know, he could be reading… Having the Spurs loanee just behind Benson would still give him the freedom to roam the box rather than the outside of the box. Leave the connecting the play to Bostock, and allow Benson to do what he can do best, score goals.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m an Alan Connell fan. If Paolo stuck with Connell and Benson for the rest of the season, we’d still be successful. However when we finish this season, we all know another striker will be on his way in anyway…

___________________________________________________________

Some Strikeforce Stats….

Appearances, goals and longest runs in the first team:

PLAYER APPS (SUBS) GOALS LONGEST RUN
Benson 16 (2) 9 16 (scored 7)
Connell 20 (18) 11 4 (scored 1)
Murray 6 (14) 3 4 (scored 0)
Bodin 9 (2) 3 3 (scored 1)
Jervis 12 (2) 5 10 (scored 4)
Montano 3 (1) 1 3 (scored 1)
Magera 9 (9) 1 4 (scored 0)
Kerrouche 11 (7) 7 6 (scored 3)
Clarke 4 0 4 (scored 0)
De Vita 6 (1) 1 4 (scored 0)
Storey (3) 0 3 sub apps in a row
Tehoue 1 (1) 0 1 (scored 0)

Strike partnership stats…

PARTNERSHIP

APPS      GOALS
Benson & Connell 7 (4) 8
Benson & Murray         3 (7) 4
Benson & Bodin          5 (2) 6
Benson & Tehoue 1 (1) 0
Benson & Magera (1) 1
Connell & Murray       4 (3) 3
Connell  & Tehoue (1) 0
Connell & De Vita 1 (2) 1
Connell & Bodin           (1) 0
Connell & Jervis 3 (3) 3
Connell & Kerrouche 5 (4) 4
Connell & Clarke 2 0
Connell & Magera (2) 0
Connell & Storey (1) 0
Jervis & Magera 3 (4) 2
Jervis & Kerrouche 2 (2) 1
Jervis&  Murray (3) 1
Jervis & Montano 3 2
Jervis & De Vita 1 1
Kerrouche & Clarke (2) 1
Kerrouche & Storey (2) 2
Kerrouche & Magera 4 (1) 1
Kerrouche & De Vita (1) 1
De Vita & Clarke 2 0
De Vita & Magera (1) 1
De Vita & Bodin 2 0
Magera & Murray 2 (3) 1
Magera  & Clarke (1) 0

Allow for human error…

Swindon 1 ‘Nam 0: Cheltenham lose chance to play for the ‘Gold’ Cup

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2

They huffed, they puffed, but they couldn’t blow the house down. Despite a huge dominance in possession, Cheltenham Town couldn’t recover from failing to convert a first half penalty and then going behind shortly afterwards to Paul Benson’s ninth goal of the season. Town’s 1-0 victory was, by all accounts, by the slimmest of margins, but true champions ride their luck, with this victory moving Swindon - a perhaps unassailable – eight points clear at the summit of League Two, writes Ron Smith.

With Paul Caddis out of the starting XI for the first time this season through injury, Paolo Di Canio had to organise a makeshift backline to prevent second best on the road Cheltenham from leaving the County Ground with all three points. Alan McCormack was favoured to deputise at right back, while Oliver Risser took the former Charlton man’s place at the centre of defence alongside Joe Devera. The only other change saw a welcome return for Luke Rooney on the left with Raffa De Vita dropping to the bench, which also featured new loan signing Jonathan Tehoue.

It was our visitors who started the sharper, with a Steve Elliot header clearing the bar and then former Town youngster Kaid Mohamed’s shot passing to the right of Wes Foderingham’s goal.

Town needed time to settle into the game – a common theme this season with just 4 of our 61 League Two goals scored in the opening 15 minutes – and it wasn’t until the tenth minute when we had our first shot, when Alessandro Cibocchi’s free kick failed to beat the wall. From 40 yards out the ever hopeful Italian always had the odds stacked against him to find the target, a situation replicated five minutes later with another speculative effort failing to test Cheltenham ‘keeper Jack Butland.

Looking to shoot from direct free kicks – from whatever distance – seems to be a disappointing and  reoccurring theme this season. With only one goal scored direct from a free kick in League Two, you have to question whatever happened to the constructive approach setting up the many red shirts in and around the box…

A few minutes later Billy Bodin had an excellent chance to put Town ahead. After being put through on goal the Welsh u21 International shot low, hard and straight at Butland, who saved well with his legs for the ball to run loose. Seeing that Bodin typically makes better use of his bucket load of technique, experience will teach the youngster to round the ‘keeper or play a simple chip. Matt Ritchie was quickest to react to the ball, however his follow up shot was cleared over the bar by a defender.

After Alan McCormack was cautioned for a needless push on loan striker Darryl Duffy, Cheltenham came back strong into the game, however the Robins from Gloucestershire needed the referee’s assistance to provide the golden opportunity to take the lead.

With half an hour on the clock and the long ball punted forward towards Duffy, Oliver Risser allowed the Cheltenham striker to lean back into him and collapse to the ground, sending the Namibian with him. Referee Russell, without thinking why on earth would Duffy collapse in the absence of a Risser arm around his front to wrestle the forward – that would be obvious from the ref’s position – or any pulling from behind – that would have been clearly viewed from his assistant, nonetheless without hesitation he awarded the penalty kick to the visitors.

Duffy couldn’t capitalise on his good fortune, striking the penalty low and to the right of Wes Foderingham, who once again proved his tremendous ability, to dive and parry the ball away to the jubilation of the County Ground faithful.

With their penalty chance gone begging, for a short spell Cheltenham lost the momentum and within five minutes it was the hosts who stamped their authority on the game with the opening goal.

The otherwise quiet Luke Rooney made his first real contribution to the game. After finding himself in acres of space on the left side and running half the wing, the former Gills man laid the ball back to Alessandro Cibocchi, who made up for his earlier speculative efforts with a right teaser of a cross deep into the box. After Billy Bodin excellently fained to leave the ball and the Cheltenham defenders just watched as spectators, it was left to the ever alert Paul Benson to sneak in at the far post to strike home. Benson again showed his poaching skills with this strike being his sixth of eight goals in League Two scored from within the six yard box.

The goal signalled the end of a frenetic phase of the game and with Cheltenham edging back into control, this half time whistle came not a moment too soon.

The second half started and thereafter it was all about Cheltenham controlling the game, however they failed to make best use of their 60% dominance in possession as the half unravelled.

Cheltenham’s versatile five man midfield – switching from a flat five to two deep lying ball winners and an attacking three supporting Darryl Duffy - overran Town. Not for the first time this season, and most notably at Oxford a week ago, Di Canio didn’t seem wise to the opposition threat and change his approach, stubbornly asserting his system will prevail.

Instead of using the replacement of Bodin - five minutes into the half - and then the next change eight minutes later, to reinforce the midfield manpower by going to one target man upfront, the still wooly hatted and gloved Italian stuck rigidly to his 4-4-2. With an abundance of space behind Ferry and Smith (later Cox) Cheltenham were pulling Swindon apart, forcing Risser and Devera ever forward to clear up and cover, leaving space for the alert Duffy to exploit the offside trap, although he failed to really test Foderingham and add to his 15 goals this campaign.

The Cheltenham system restricted our usual attacking outlets. Our normally overlapping full backs spent more time actually defending and tracking the widemen, leaving Rooney and Ritchie dropping deeper to chase the ball – much to the complaint of Di Canio – instead of being ready to receive in their normally dangerous forward positions. Ritchie also wasn’t helped by the absence of Paul Caddis, as McCormack didn’t seem to have the energy of Caddis to continue tracking back after his infrequent marauding forward runs.

At the final whistle

With so little of the play and the widemen gone AWOL, throughout the half Town were reduced to the long ball and speculative efforts, but of those a dipping half volley from Paul Benson had to be expertly turned away by Butland and later on a long range drive from Luke Rooney again saved by the ‘keeper.

The introduction of new loanee Jonathan Tehoue was meant to provide Town with that physical presence to deal with the long ball, but it just didn’t work. Tehoue didn’t show here was a play who is playing to win a contract come June. The Leyton Orient striker will have to show much better in a Town shirt, having shown he’s nothing other than a poor man’s Wayne Allison, with a desire and energy to run that makes Vincent Pericard look like Usain Bolt and defies his “I would say I am a runner” assertion to Gary Rose last week. All that being said, this was hardly the best game for the Frenchman to settle into the Swindon system.

Cheltenham’s best chance of the half came with four minutes remaining, when Duffy reacted quickest to a cross and found space for an overhead kick only to send the ball direct to the focused Foderingham. A yard either side and our rivals would have been celebrating a ‘deserved’ late equaliser to show for their efforts.

The match ended with a talking point for the Cheltenham supporters, who were angry the referee didn’t order the injured Joe Devera and Oliver Risser to rejoin play from the sideline and instead the Town pair were allowed to defend a corner. Cheltenham fans having forgotten Law 5, which allows the referee to exempt enforcing players to leave the field after treatment if those players were from the same team.

This victory ensured Town have taken 47 from the available 54 at the County Ground and are now surely favourites to not only secure an immediate return to League One, but they’ll depart this division with the silverware that Cheltenham now have little hopes of getting their hands on.

A welcome week of ‘rest’ with no midweek match awaits a tired Town side before the trip to Crewe next Saturday.

COME ON YOU REDS!!

Your Man of the Match Result: 1st Foderingham 59% | 2nd Devera 33% | 3rd Benson 6%

Header photo was originally posted to Flickr by lhourahane and confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.